Syndie warms up to ‘Ellen,’ but she’s no ‘Dr.Paul’

Most '03-04 shows have limped out of the starting gate

No breakout hit has emerged from the crop of new syndicated TV series this season, but after five weeks Warner Bros. is angling to get better time periods next fall for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

These maneuverings over “Ellen”stand out because most of the 2003-04 shows in TV syndication have limped out of the starting gate.

“Ellen” has generated the most buzz among freshman series. The ratings of three other rookie shows are less than robust.

While “Ellen” is averaging a more-than-decent 2.2 rating in metered markets since its kickoff, Warners’ “Sharon Osbourne Show” is managing a 1.4 rating, King World’s “Living It Up with Ali & Jack” a 1.3 and NBC Enterprise’s “Starting Over” only a 1.1.

Another series tracked by industry radar, Buena Vista’s “The Wayne Brady Show,” averaged a so-so 1.6 metered-market rating for its first six weeks. But “Brady” is not technically a rookie: The show began with full national coverage early in September after limited clearances in 2002-03 on selected ABC-owned stations.

Seeking to nip competition in the bud, “Ellen” distribber Warner Bros. is trying to block NBC Entertainment’s “The Jane Pauley Show” from locking up the most desirable time periods on stations between 3 and 5 p.m. next fall.

The key battleground in the Ellen-vs.-Jane skirmish will be TV stations carrying “Ellen” on one-year deals with Warner Bros. for morning time periods.

Some of these stations are getting the word that if they don’t agree to move “Ellen” to more desirable afternoon timeslots in 2004-05, Warners reserves the right to sell the show to another station in the market that offers a more accommodating deal.

If the November Nielsen books show that “Ellen” is not only chalking up solid ratings but enticing large numbers of her demo target of women 25 to 54 on the 14 NBC O&Os that run it, these stations will be faced with a dilemma: How can they put the untried Pauley show from their sister company NBC Enterprises in the afternoon next fall and dis “Ellen” by keeping her show in the morning when she deserves to get a promotion to more lucrative real estate?

That’s a decision that the NBC stations won’t have to make for a couple of months because they have the option for a second year of “Ellen.”

The Tribune-owned TV stations in major markets are playing Warner Bros.’ other talker “The Sharon Osbourne Show,” which Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry Media Corp., the TV rep firm, calls “a disappointment,” despite promising Nielsens in some markets.

“There’s much to be decided creatively about the direction of the show, because Osbourne is not reaching her potential,” Losak says. “The question is: Does she have the depth of talent to carry a syndicated talk show?”

One show that Losak has not written off despite its anorexic ratings is “Starting Over,” which puts seven real-life women with problems they’re trying to solve in a house rigged with cameras and microphones.

“It’s an extremely interesting show,” she says, adding that the series has added viewers to its total in each of its first five weeks.

As Losak puts it: “I’m not ready to sound the death knell on ‘Starting Over.’ “

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