Talk show host to exit syndication after 25 years

The floodgates in daytime TV are officially open. After 25 years, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” will end its run on Sept. 9, 2011, Winfrey announced to staffers at her Chicago-based Harpo production company on Thursday. She’ll officially announce her exit on today’s episode of the show.

Whether that means Winfrey will launch a new talker on her burgeoning cable partnership with Discovery Communications, OWN, remains to be announced — but Winfrey is expected to have a major presence on the cabler.

Winfrey’s departure will make for an unprecedented shift in syndicated daytime TV in a manner similar to what happened in morning radio after Howard Stern split for satellite radio.

In one scenario, Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution may make a play to grab those ABC station slots for “Ellen.” The “Ellen” show’s deal with NBC stations happens to be up in 2011 as well — and execs there see Ellen DeGeneres as the heir to Winfrey’s talk queen crown. Winfrey, who just put DeGeneres on the cover of her magazine, even appears to have an affinity for her rival.

Of course, DeGeneres could make a play for that crown even if “Ellen” sticks with the NBC stations, particularly if the ABC outlets opt to replace Winfrey with local news rather than another talkshow.

In a less likely scenario, Disney could see an opportunity to finally claim that news lead-in timeslot for its own firstrun syndicated strip. But given the company’s dismal track record in that arena, such a move is unlikely.

Rumors of Winfrey’s departure had been rife over the last few weeks, after key “Oprah Winfrey Show” staffer Lisa Erspamer, who had been co-exec producer of the syndie strip since 2006, was tapped chief creative officer of OWN.

“We have the greatest respect for Oprah and wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors,” “Oprah” distributor CBS said in a statement. “We know that anything she turns her hand to will be a great success. We look forward to working with her for the next several years and hopefully afterwards as well.”

It’s no secret that Discovery topper David Zaslav wanted to see the host move her show to the cable channel, which is expected to launch in January 2011.

Insiders said new episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” won’t be moving to OWN, but Winfrey will have a daily presence on the channel via series, specials or promos.

At the very least, OWN will have the rights to the entire 25-year “Oprah Winfrey Show” catalog beginning in September 2011.

Winfrey had previously said she would announce her decision before the end of the year — and the long lead time will allow stations to start making contingency plans for their post-Oprah era.Now Winfrey can now prepare for a yearlong final bow of sorts during the 2010-11 TV season, which will likely see a ratings boost.

For Winfrey, 2011 reps a clean break for her gabber. Not only does her deal with top stations — particularly the ABC-owned and Hearst-owned outlets where she has dominated in the ratings for decades — expire in fall 2011, but her deal with CBS Television Distribution is up as well.

Had she decided to stay, Winfrey was facing the prospect of doing her show for a lot less money. Stations have long been willing to just break even or lose money on “Oprah” in exchange for the ratings bounce it delivers as a local news lead-in. But in these cash-strapped times, local outlets wouldn’t have been willing to pay the same rates they once did.

For CBS, Winfrey’s departure will likely have an affect on the company’s 2012 bottom line and reps a loss to its syndicated unit (which still boasts strong players like “Dr. Phil,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy”).

But on the flip side, it could rep a boon to CBS’ TV station group, which has seen ratings growth for its news product in some markets — and now won’t have to compete with “Oprah” and “Oprah”-fueled early newscasts on the ABC stations.

ABC stations are the hardest hit by Winfrey’s announcement. Winfrey’s show was born out of ABC’s Chicago outlet WLS — Winfrey was originally host of “A.M. Chicago,” which turned into “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1986 — and the host has long had a tight relationship with those stations.

Few execs believe a new host will rise from the ashes to carry Winfrey’s mantle, even if Winfrey personally anoints a successor. (Winfrey pal Gayle King, long discussed as a potential successor, has already tried and failed with a show of her own.)

News comes as Winfrey is enjoying a ratings bounce this fall thanks to heavily touted sitdowns with Sarah Palin and Whitney Houston, as well as her tribute to Michael Jackson.

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