Oprah will continue talking through ’02

Yakker delivers early gift to King World

Run on — that’s the theme of Oprah Winfrey’s new season and that’s just what the talk TV queen intends to do. Distrib King World Prods. is expected to announce today that Winfrey has committed to hosting her top-rated syndie talker through the 2001-02 season.

The new pact extends Winfrey’s commitment for another two years beyond her current deal, which had been set to expire at the end of the 1999-2000 season. Sources say Winfrey and King World inked the deal late Wednesday. Reps for both declined to comment, but rumors of a pending deal drove KW’s stock price up $1.69 (or 6%) to close Wednesday at $29.19.

The agreement includes a two-year extension of the distribution pact between Winfrey’s Harpo Prods. and King World, which also was set to expire at the end of the 1999-2000 season. King World has handled distribution of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” ever since she graduated from a local ayem show in Chicago to the national daytime TV scene in 1986.

Surprise

Winfrey’s renewal comes as something of a surprise because she was not obligated to divulge her plans to King World for another year. Moreover, she’s been branching out from the talkshow world in recent years. Winfrey, 44, has exec produced a number of well-received telefilms under her “Oprah Winfrey Presents” banner for ABC. “Beloved,” her first feature pic since 1985’s “The Color Purple,” is due out from Touchstone next month.

After years of towering over the talkshow competition, “Oprah Winfrey” finally saw its ratings eclipsed earlier this year by the surging “Jerry Springer Show.”

But given “Springer’s” risque content, Winfrey remains the undisputed leader in terms of advertising dollars and the showcase value of an appearance on her show. What’s more, “Oprah Winfrey” broke “Springer’s” 26-week winning streak with her 13th season preem during the week of Sept. 7.

Loyalty to KW

Winfrey undoubtedly could have commanded mega coin in an auction of her distribution rights, but she has long demonstrated her loyalty to King World, the indie headed by brothers Roger and Michael King. And, the relationship has been mutually beneficial.

King World’s syndie sales acumen helped establish “Oprah Winfrey” early on, and with its subsequent success, the distrib set TV biz benchmarks for license fees and contractual obligations for a hit syndie property. Today, Winfrey is one of the wealthiest and most powerful femmes in showbiz, landing at No. 4 this year on Forbes’ tally with an estimated 1998 income of $125 million.

Winfrey’s show generates upward of 40% of King World’s annual revenue, or about $200 million, of which KW is understood to pocket roughly 35% as a distribution fee. Winfrey has been renewing her talkshow contract in two-year intervals since 1995, and the will-she-or-won’t-she question has always played out with high drama for King World, particularly on Wall Street.

KW’s other hits

King World, also the home of syndie hits “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!” and “Inside Edition,” has been moving to steel itself against the loss of the Winfrey windfall by broadening its business scope and launching two big-ticket syndie strips this fall. Last week, KW’s revival of “Hollywood Squares” bowed to solid Nielsen numbers, while its Roseanne-hosted talker opened to critical acclaim and OK ratings.

Winfrey, meanwhile, has managed to stay on top of her game by continuously re-inventing her show. Two years ago, she became the darling of the publishing world by launching the monthly “Oprah’s Book Club” feature that has given an atomic-powered boost to sales of the titles selected for discussion.

This season, Winfrey has introduced the “Change Your Life TV” feature, which brings together experts, shrinks and others in an effort to “inspire viewers to fulfill their own dreams.”

Though Winfrey’s decision to commit to her show through 2002 was unexpected, in hindsight it’s clear that Winfrey dropped hints in the opening stanza of her show’s new theme song, in which she warbles:

“I believe I’ll run on/see what the end will be/I believe I’ll work on/find out what waits for me.”

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