Martha’s reheated leftovers

Stewart puts fresh spin on summer segs

A press release recently sent out by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia isn’t really a press release.

The company — whose founder is no longer its CEO but its chief creative officer — sent out a notice Friday for the summer run of Stewart’s eponymous TV program, touting “new segments showcasing Martha Stewart Living’s ‘how-to’ approach toward kids, gardening, food…”

The company then backed down from the release, saying the segments would be repackaged with old material. New Martha was suddenly Sort-of-new Martha.

Whatever they are, the shows are scheduled for the July sweep, which began July 3 and ends Aug. 6. Of the four major ratings periods each year, July is considered the least important by the industry, and new programming — even new mixed with old — is largely unheard of, with the exception of live shows. Most July programs are reruns.

Odd timing

Thus some were curious about the fresh Martha footage — tossing summer salads, planting Epimediums, making velcro-and-ribbon beach bags — over the next month.

“I’m surprised. It’s not commonplace for there to be anything new during the July sweeps,” said Bill Carroll, VP of programming for the Katz Television Group. “The only shows that do repackaging are when they do theme weeks. Everyone else pretty much runs the identical show. If it ran on March 25, the exact same show will run on July 25.”

Yet even King World, which distributes “Martha Stewart Living,” said nothing was extraordinary.

“This happens all the time,” said a King World spokesman.

Then why notify the press?

Press ploy?

New programming could bolster Stewart’s show, which is slipping in the ratings of late. May ratings for “Martha Stewart Living” were 1.7, down from 1.9 in May 2002. The show is broadcast in 149 markets representing 87% of the country. In some markets the program has been moved from its choice 9 a.m timeslot to latenight. Many industryites predict the upcoming season will be its last.

Publicized new segments also serve to remind viewers that Stewart is first and foremost a fixture in the house, not the courthouse.

In June, photos of Stewart in the New York court where she was indicted on five counts surrounding her sale of ImClone stock in 2001 flooded the press. She has denied wrongdoing and will be tried in January.

Finally, the new footage could help the show stay competitive with live programs like ABC’s “Live! With Regis and Kelly,” which airs opposite Stewart.

Carroll was confused by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s reluctance to wave the Martha flag. “I’m surprised they’re downplaying (the new segments). It would seem they would want to herald it if they did a press release.”

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