Seltel’s Bjork Warns Of Talkshow Glut

TV stations looking to buy new talkshows will have a tough time navigating through the glut of on-air personalities striving to become the next Ricki or Oprah.

That’s one of the conclusions reached by Janeen Bjork, VP and director of programming for Seltel, in her presentation at NATPE Jan. 23 to execs of the dozens of TV stations represented by Seltel. As they were last season, talkshows are again the overwhelming TV series trend because, Bjork says, “They’re cost-effective, the risks are low and if they succeed, they can go on to be profitable for decades.”

Also, she says, there’ll be lots of holes in the skeds of TV stations because “it’s unlikely any of the talk freshmen other than Gordon Elliott will return for a second season.”

MCA TV has already canceled “The Suzanne Somers Show,” and dismal ratings are casting a pall over the five other rookie strips: Group W Prods.’ “Marilu Henner Show,” Multimedia TV’s “Dennis Prager Show,” Buena Vista TV’s “Judge for Yourself,” Group W’s “Jones & Jury” and Multimedia’s “Susan Powter Show.”

The situation is similar for the three post-11 p.m. strips that started last year: Paramount TV’s “Jon Stewart,” Columbia TriStar’s “The Newz” and MCA TV’s “Last Call.” The “latenight audience hasn’t embraced” them, Bjork says. “Retooling by each of the threesome has yet to cause the resampling they’ll need to grow audiences.”

Bjork says two of the new talkshows – Tribune Entertainment’s “Charles Perez” and All American TVs “Richard Bey Show” – have a shot at getting lots of clearances because they’re chalking up good ratings on some of the stations that are stripping them in limited rollouts. And stations that need immediate help don’t have to wait until fall – the Perez and Bey shows are available right away.

Most of the other talkshow wannabes don’t have pilots of the host interacting with guests and with the audience, so it’s difficult for Seltel to evaluate them. That’s a particular problem with Columbia TriStar’s “Tempestt Bledsoe,” which the distributor is tying in to renewals of its hit “Ricki Lake” talker, Bjork says. “The price of renewing ‘Ricki’ is Tempestt Bledsoe.'”

Next to talkshows, the biggest trend is toward firstrun weekly hours. But Bjork is urging stations to be wary about filling their skeds with these shows because last year’s most highly touted new hour, Rysher Entertainment’s “Lonesome Dove: The Series,” “took desirable, highly rated timeslots down, often by 50% or more.”

Dwelling on the downside, she points to the cancellation of five hours so far this season: Buena Vista TV’s “Crusaders,” Worldvision’s “Heaven Help Us,” Warner Bros. TV’s “Time Trax” and two from Rysher: “RoboCop” and “Thunder in Paradise.”

“We wouldn’t be surprised to see the list get longer,” she says, stressing the “steep barter splits” many of the distributors of these shows demand. On some hours shows, distribs carve out nine commercial minutes in each hour, leaving only five minutes for stations to sell locally.

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