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SWEEPS RATINGS SHOW MELLOW OPRAH SLIDING

The afternoon domain ruled by talk queen Oprah Winfrey for nearly a decade came under heavy attack during Nielsen’s local May sweeps.

With Winfrey switching to a softer format this past season, and a portion of her older audience drifting to the 0.J. Simpson double murder trial, the once-invincible mistress of the yak pack looked vulnerable, as a group of one-time jesters moved within striking distance.

Leading the charge was Montel Williams, followed by Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones, according to a syndication network audience processor, SNAP, analysis of the May sweeps by the station rep firm Petry National Television.

King World’s “Oprah” (8.2 rating/26 share overall and an 8.4/27 in her dominant early fringe berths) remained out front, but continued to show erosion. The program tumbled one full rating point and more than three shares from the previous May, with losses of nearly three shares in women 18-34 and two shares in the 18-49 and 25-54 groups.

Significantly, the news programs following “Oprah” improved on the performance of the talkshow by nearly a full rating point.

Buena Vista TV’s “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” continued to rank as the top-rated show in daytime with a 5.2/26, unless one counts the handful of clearances in the daypart for “Oprah” (8.2/25).

“Live” was up slightly year-to-year and boosted its lead-in by nearly four shares, but it suffered some slight erosion in the younger women groups. That may explain why there are a spate of baby “Regis & Kathie Lee” shows in development for fall ’96 that are designed to appeal to the younger audience.

But it was the crop of newer, confrontational talkshows appealing to the young audience that remained the big story in May. Having surpassed many veterans, they are now taking aim at “Oprah” and “Live.” Par’s “Montel” (3.6/13) earned a 5.2/17 in early fringe, making it the second-ranked talkshow in the afternoons and putting it just three rating points behind “Oprah.”

“Montel” was up from a 3.4/13 the previous year and 1 share from its lead-in. The demos told the tale, however, with hefty increases in women 18-34 (up 4.5 shares), 18-49 (up 3 shares) and 25-54 (up nearly two shares).

Columbia TriStar’s “Ricki Lake” and Warner Bros.’ “Jenny Jones” tied with a 3.5/12.

“Ricki,” which generated a 4.3/13 in early fringe, suffered some mild year-to-year household erosion with the loss of nearly half a share point. But it continued to rise in the column that counts, the female demos advertisers covet.

The show – challenging “Oprah” for first-place this summer in the separate Nielsen national syndication barter rankings used by advertisers (Daily Variety, June 22) – vaulted more than 6 shares from last year in the 18-34 category, four shares in the 18-49 division and two shares in the 25-54 wing.

“Jenny” improved slightly over May ’94 and its lead-in, performing best in early and late fringe with 4.1 ratings.

In the key women demos, “Jenny” soared six shares among the 18-34 set and two shares with the 18-49 group. In the 25-54 bracket, the show rose from a 2.1/15 the previous May to 2.5/15.

Multimedia’s “Jerry Springer” (3.3/14) continued its upward ratings. It gained 1 share from a year ago, nearly 3 shares from its lead-in and finished third in early fringe with a 5.0/12.

As with “Jenny,” the real story was “Jerry’s” phenomenal growth in the critical female demos. The show leaped 10 shares for those 18-34, six shares with the 18/49 lot and two shares among the 25-54 populace.

KW’s “Rolonda” (3.2/16) also continued to be a force now that it has wholeheartedly dived into the mudslinging world of low-brow talk TV. The show gained a bit on its year-ago mark, but still declined 1.0/1 from its lead-in.

In the demo department, “Rolonda” rose nearly five shares with young women, about four shares with the 18-49 bunch and almost three shares with the 25-54 sect. “Richard Bey,” which All American TV has cleared in about 65% of the country, generated a 1.8/5 in May, which matches both its year-ago and lead-in averages.

Tribune’s “Charles Perez” – hurt in major Tribune markets by baseball and Simpson trial preemptions – finished its first full book in nearly 60% of the U.S. with a 1.7/5. That’s off from its 2.3/7 lead-in and 2.1/7 year-ago time period average mark.

Of the vets, Multimedia’s “Sally Jessy Raphael” (4.2/17) remained on par with its year-ago average, while advancing on its lead-in and key demos by a half rating point.

Paramount’s “Maury Povich” (3.8/16) slipped one household share from May ’94 and 1.5 shares from its lead-in, but it improved in younger women.

Multimedia’s “Donahue” (3.6/15) continued on its downward spiral in May, falling more than three shares from a year ago and nearly four shares from its lead-in. The talkshow dived five shares in all key women demos. Tribune’s “Geraldo” (3.1/12) declined a bit year-to-year in households and younger women, due in part to its move from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Los Angeles against “Oprah Winfrey.” It showed no growth from its lead-ins.

Twentieth TV’s “Gordon Elliott” (2.0/9), the only freshman talkshow surviving for a second season, fell three shares from the year-ago time period average, four shares from its lead-in and one-two shares in the older female groups. The show turned in its best ratings in late fringe with a 2.5/13. Multimedia’s “Rush Limbaugh” (2.4/14) inched up a bit from a year ago, but dropped a half point on its lead-in.

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