Low ratings may force ‘Whoopi’ to reformat

“The Whoopi Goldberg Show,” the high-profile, half-hour Genesis Entertainment strip featuring the actress chatting with one personality each night, will likely undergo a format change this season.

Genesis prez Wayne Lepoff said Friday that “Whoopi,” which has been steadily sliding downward in the ratings since its premiere, would probably switch to more episodes featuring two guests when production resumes in April.

Unlike other talkers, however, the guests would be connected in some form– Roseanne Arnold and John Goodman, for example.

A number of format possibilities have been discussed, but the related guests concept would be the avenue closest to the original concept for the interview program, according to Lepoff.

The shift is seen as a way to improve the show’s performance and perhaps salvage a second season. “Whoopi’s” ratings have been largely dependent on the guests, rising and falling accordingly.

Lepoff acknowledged that he “didn’t expect the show to be so guest-driven.”

If viewers fail to identify with a guest on a particular night, they quickly tune out. By adding a second guest that is tied into the first, he said, the audience may be more inclined to remain.

The changes will have to wait, however. Under a schedule set at the beginning of the season, production on the first 26-week cycle of shows is scheduled to come to an end in November.

Goldberg will take a break for several months to film a sequel to “Sister Act” for Disney, with production on the second 26 weeks gearing up in March and beginning April 1 (Lepoff said some production staffers may leave the show during the open-ended and unpaidhiatus period).

With only 13 unbooked episodes remaining in the first cycle, Genesis theorized that it would be too late and too confusing to revise the format now. In the meantime, the syndicator hopes to take a different tack to boost the ratings during the critical November sweeps. Since its premiere in September, Genesis has experimented with different types of guests, including politicians such as Jerry Brown, who failed to generate much enthusiasm.

Genesis, Lepoff said, “learned its lesson” and will turn the focus on major musicians, sports figures and personalities in the upcoming sweeps.

Some will be drawn from the A list of Goldberg’s agency, CAA, which packaged the show.

Despite the ratings problems that have plagued the talker–it ranked 64th among barter shows in the most recent Nielsen national syndie barter rankings with a 1.7 mark (compared to a 4.0 rating guarantee to advertisers)–Lepoff said the program has not faced any major downgrades from stations.

Because of Goldberg’s name recognition, he stressed that stations have been receiving premium prices from sponsors, which has helped offset the lower-than-expected ratings.

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