A lot of new big names have moved into the daytime neighborhood this fall, but viewers are choosing to spend more time with a familiar friend. The Ellen DeGeneres Show is off to its best start in its 10-year history, ranking as the No. 1 syndicated talk program among the advertiser-favored audience of women ages 25-54 through the first two weeks of the TV season. Its overall average of 3.3 million viewers is up 6 percent from a year ago, putting it behind Dr. Phil (3.8 million) and Live With Kelly and Michael (3.4 million).
When Oprah Winfrey ended her program in 2011, insiders in the syndication business wondered where her viewers would go. No program last year took immediate advantage of the upheaval, but daytime habits change glacially. "All the research indicated that after Oprah left there was a large opportunity for Ellen, and that may be playing itself out," says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, which syndicates Ellen. "Her audience is continuing to grow, which is very unusual in today's marketplace."
Werner believes the high-profile launches from Katie Couric, Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst have brought more attention to the genre, leading viewers to take another look at DeGeneres' show, too. With so much tumult, the familiarity she offers has become appealing. "It's companionship television," says Werner. "Ellen can be funny. She can be serious. She does an array of things that at this point in time may resonate in the culture. The viewer feels comfortable with her."
Here's a look at how some new and revamped shows are doing so far:
Based on her star power and 15-year run as a morning-show superstar, Katie Couric has been touted as the host with the most potential to attain Oprah-like status. Competitors note that ratings for Katie trailed off after a heavily promoted premiere. But with an average of 2.4 million viewers, Katie ranks as the most watched new talk show of the season. In its second week, it retained 90 percent of its premiere-week audience, a positive sign, though producer Disney/ABC will be looking for growth. "She's gotten sampling," says Bill Carroll, a vice president at Katz Television Group who analyzes programming for TV stations. "She's roughly doing the time-period ratings [of a year ago] — but the reason you put it on is to do better."
Steve Harvey is well behind Katie, with an average of 1.6 million viewers — but Harvey's ratings have improved over the shows it replaced in a majority of markets, which is how the syndication business measures a new show's success. Harvey has a huge following among African-American viewers, who made up 58 percent of his audience in its first week. "It's worked very nicely," says an executive for a rival show. "The question is, can it cross over to other audiences or not?"
Live With Kelly and Michael
The smooth transition of Michael Strahan into the chair once occupied by Regis Philbin has to be the envy of any program making such a major change. Live is up 6 percent from a year ago and 25 percent among women 25-54. Strahan and cohost Kelly Ripa "have a nice chemistry, and when you watch that show, you're looking for two people you're going to have a cup of coffee with," says Carroll. "You have to have a comfort level."
Anderson Cooper launched his second year with a new format, airing live and pairing with rotating cohosts. He'll need to do better than the 1.3 million viewers he's averaging to get a third season.
The Jeff Probst Show
The Survivor host's uplifting approach to daytime talk has not inspired viewers (only an average of 883,000 have watched). He's an early candidate to be voted off the daytime island.
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