‘Oprah,’ ‘Dr. Phil’ see strong syndie starts

Talker posts best opening-week numbers in five years

“The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Dr. Phil” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” charged out of the starting gate during the first week of their new season in firstrun syndication, and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Sharon Osbourne Show” stepped up as the rookies most likely to succeed.

Bolstered by guests such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Madonna, “Oprah,” distributed by King World, harvested her best opening-week numbers (Sept. 15-21) since 1998, pulling a 7.1 national Nielsen rating, 18% higher than its premiere week in 2002.

Similarly, “Dr. Phil,” also from King World, chalked up a 5.2 rating, which was 18% above the show’s debut a year ago. “Dr. Phil” benefited from a blizzard of cross promotion brought on by a national tour for “The Ultimate Weight Solution,” his bestselling book.

Buena Vista’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” shot up to a 3.1 rating in its first week, which was 29% higher than that of the same period in 2002. Administering the adrenaline shot to “Millionaire” was its move to some key ABC-owned TV stations, including WABC New York and WPVI Philadelphia, as a replacement for the canceled network soap opera “Port Charles.”

Warner Bros. Domestic TV is shepherding the first-year talkshows hosted by DeGeneres and Osbourne, and both wound up with a promising 1.5 rating for the week of Sept. 15. That was premiere week for Osbourne, but the second week for DeGeneres, who saw her numbers go up by 7% from Week One’s 1.4 rating.

While King World was living it up over the numbers for “Oprah” and “Dr. Phil,” the distributor was hanging crepe for its rookie talkshow “Living It Up With Ali & Jack,” which managed to eke out only a 1.0 rating in its first week on the air.

NBC Enterprises’ first-year reality series “Starting Over” was doing even worse than “Ali & Jack” with a 0.9 rating, but at least the number was 13% better the the 0.8 it scraped up in its first week. And even though the rating was low, a disproportionate number of its viewers fit in the women-18-to-49 category, one of Madison Avenue’s favorite demographics, according to NBC’s researchers.

Buena Vista’s “The Wayne Brady Show,” which ran on a limited number of stations in 2002-03, averaged a 1.1 rating in its third week as a fully distributed talk-variety show, which was 22% above the 0.9 it came up with during each of its first two weeks.

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