Who’ll claim Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk throne?

Steve Harvey launched his daytime talk show last week to solid ratings.
(Chuck Hodes / Associated Press)
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Daytime talk definitely isn’t cheap this fall.

A year after Oprah Winfrey left as daytime’s queen to launch her own cable network, the afternoon kingdom is still in search of a successor. Winfrey closed out the last season of her 25-year term averaging about 6 million viewers, hardly her best but still a level over and above the current crop of talk shows.

The “after Oprah” world is still in its infancy, and several new (and familiar) faces will vie for rule this fall: “Survivor” host Jeff Probst, talk show veteran Ricki Lake and TV journalist Katie Couric all roll out syndicated talk shows Monday. And that’s not all — “Family Feud” host Steve Harvey debuted last week, and conflict-resolution expert Trisha Goddard and Marie Osmond are poised to launch their talk shows in the coming weeks.

That’s a lot of chatter.

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The new players join an already busy field — Dr. Phil! Dr. Oz! Ellen! Though long-term survival is questionable in an overcrowded field as afternoon viewing habits continue to evolve, the risk is worth it. In addition to burnishing their personal brands, daytime talkers that endure and thrive can grab a sizable chunk of hefty ad revenues in the talk genre — which totaled an estimated $700 million last season.

“We are dealing with the post-Oprah time frame, so it’s not surprising that people want to throw their hat into the ring this year, now that the lion is out,” said Ethan Heftman, director of national broadcast for the ad-buying firm Initiative. “That on top of soap operas losing their grip on daytime, and there are now more opportunities for personalities to get in the game.”

Of the big names, none will be more scrutinized than Couric. The 55-year-old returns to a familiar turf after leaving a 15-year-stint on NBC’s “Today” to head up the CBS Evening News — a less well-received venture that lasted five years. With “Katie,” she moves to ABC and marks Disney-ABC Domestic Television’s first new syndicated talk show since Tony Danza’s short-lived talk show went off the air six years ago.

The network has a lot riding on “America’s Sweetheart.” In a bid to have Couric’s show air in most markets at 3 p.m., the network moved the time slot of its last-surviving soap, “General Hospital,” which gave back an hour to its affiliates.

And, yes, Couric knows all eyes are on her. For the first episode of her show, whose lineup of stations reaches 97% of the country, the cheery host will be chatting with new mom Jessica Simpson.

“I do feel pressure,” Couric told The Times during a recent trip to Los Angeles. “But I also feel like I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have some degree of self-confidence, if I didn’t feel I could do a good job. But I’m definitely not the next messiah of daytime television, and I hope people don’t see me that way.”


Couric isn’t the only one feeling the weight of expectations. Lake said it’s unfair to compare the newcomers to Winfrey.

“Now, a hit is getting a 1 rating,” she said. “The system is so different now. Even Oprah needed some time to get into her groove.”

The 43-year-old makes a return to daytime after her successful run with a ‘90s talk show, “Ricki Lake” — one that sometimes outrated Winfrey’s show. And she knows even more about being up against a parade of talk show hosts. In 1995 alone, two years after her show’s debut, Lake found herself up against Winfrey, Donahue, Geraldo Rivera, Maury Povich, Sally Jesse Raphael and numerous others.

“It was just as cluttered a decade ago, if not more so,” said Lake, whose recent stint on “Dancing With the Stars” was admittedly a way to highlight her name before her new show. “You just can’t think about it. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything. There is only so much you can do to stand out.”

A recent taping of her new show, whose set is at Culver Studios, focused on suicide and featured an appearance by her former “Dancing With the Stars” partner Mark Ballas, whose uncle committed suicide.

She and her peers insist their shows won’t be celebrity-driven.

“They can factor in, but this isn’t a promotional stop,” Probst said of his show, which is distributed by CBS but will air on NBC stations. The 50-year-old TV personality, who has served as the overlord of Tribal Councils on “Survivor” since 2000, said you won’t see voted-off contestants on his show: “This show is about the adventures of life, friendships, relationships.”


“The Jeff Probst Show,” which is pretaped in Hollywood, will feature segments such as “Guys on the Couch,” where two guys from the studio audience come onstage to answer relationship questions from women. Sometimes, he’ll call upon “the court of public opinion,” in which in-studio audience members can weigh in on a topic — such as how often they have sex in a week — by voting from a device attached to their chairs.

“The challenge in doing a new show is finding the truth in that show,” said Probst, who added that he felt he could “contribute to the conversation” after becoming a husband and stepfather. “I feel comfortable in doing the show I want to do. I have no idea if anyone will watch it, but that’s why you put it on the air.”

For Harvey, his truth is humor.

“I’ve been in the funny business for a long time,” said the veteran comedian, whose show will air in top markets on NBC stations, back to back with “The Ellen Degeneres Show.” “In terms of funny, you can’t really top what we’re going to do in daytime. The only person that’s funny is Ellen, and I’m going to be her lead-in, so until Ellen comes on, I’m the funniest person on TV.”

“Steve Harvey,” which is modeled after the bestselling author’s books that offer women advice on relationships and dating from a male perspective, launched his show last week to solid ratings. But it’s too soon to know whether they’ll last, say analysts, with other newcomers coming Monday along with premieres of “Dr. Phil,” “Ellen” and “Dr. Oz.”

Although the pressure to land boffo numbers has eased over the years, the chances for long-term staying power remain tough.

“In five years, I would say two of the four big names coming out this fall will still be around,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst for the ad firm Horizon Media. “It’s a pretty strong crop of names, but it’s hard to say whether that will translate to viewing power.”


If anyone is close to being the next daytime royalty, it might be 69-year-old Judith Sheindlin. The tough-talking “Judge Judy” wrapped last season on top of the daytime ratings mound, averaging around 9.7 million viewers — making it the top syndicated program on daytime TV.

In the talk show realm, Winfrey disciple “Dr. Phil” (Phil McGraw) earned about 4 million viewers each weekday. He’s followed by another Winfrey pupil, Mehmet Oz, whose “Dr. Oz Show” averaged about 3.7 million viewers. “Ellen” teetered around 3.2 million viewers.

But if it doesn’t work this time around for some in the new bunch, at least they can knock it off a bucket list.

“I think everybody gets a talk show at least once in their life,” Lake joked. “It’s all the rage. Some of us get them twice.”



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