But Lake, Probst shows struggle in syndication ratings

It’s only the first week, but the fall’s rollout of syndicated talkshows has already produced a couple of early ratings pace-setters.

Disney-ABC’s new talker, “Katie,” premiered to strong ratings Monday, Sept. 10, tying the bow of “Rachael Ray” in 2009, and equaling the best talk debut since “Dr. Phil” in 2002, at a 2.8 household rating/8 share in Nielsen’s weighted metered markets.

That was up 22% from September 2011 time-period averages, and 12% from its 2.5/8 lead-in, which is ABC soap “General Hospital” at 2 p.m. in many markets. “Katie,” starring former “CBS Evening News” and “Today Show” anchor Katie Couric, airs primarily on ABC-owned-and-affiliated stations at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. across the country.

While the initial numbers were great news for “Katie,” on Tuesday (Sept. 11), the show’s household ratings dropped 19% to a 2.3/7 off her strong-curiosity tune-in. That ties year-ago time-period averages, while losing 8% off its lead-in. Over its first three days, “Katie” averaged a 2.4/7.

“Katie’s” strongest competition among rookie yakkers looks to be NBCUniversal’s “Steve Harvey,” which premiered Sept. 4 in weaker timeslots on weaker stations to lower household numbers. But in its first seven days on the air, “Harvey” is holding very steady at a 1.4/4, after premiering at a 1.5/4.

Moreover, “Harvey” is proving to be competitive with “Katie” in the key demographic of women 25-54, with the two nearly toe-to-toe.

In fact, by Wednesday of last week, “Harvey” was tying or beating “Katie” in the top 10 markets among women 18-49 and women 25-54. The two shows tied in the top 10 markets among women 25-54 at a 1.2/8 weighted metered-market average, while “Harvey” edged out “Katie” among women 18-49 (0.9/6 to 0.8/5).

Taking a closer look at those markets demonstrates “Harvey’s” appeal among daytime audiences, especially considering “Harvey’s” clearances, which are mostly on NBC owned stations in the top markets, are less potent than “Katie’s” primarily ABC-station lineup in those same markets. The ABC – owned stations, home to Oprah Winfrey’s iconic daytime show for 25 years, are typically the strongest station in their market; conversely, the NBC-owned stations have been struggling over the past decade, especially in daytime.

On WABC New York last Wednesday, for example, “Katie” scored a 1.8/14 at 3 p.m., while “Harvey,” on WNBC at 3 p.m., turned in a 1.2/10. While head-to-head, “Katie” won that timeslot battle, the Couric show lost 43% of its “General Hospital” lead-in (3.2/24), while “Harvey” had to self-start from the 0.2/1 lead-in on WNBC turned in by another rookie talker, “Jeff Probst.”

Across the country, “Katie” is averaging a 1.3/9 among women 25-54, down 24% from its lead-in and off 7% from its 1.4/8 year-ago time period average. Conversely, “Steve Harvey” is averaging a 1.0/7 among women 25-54, up 67% from its 0.6/4 average lead-in, and up 100% compared with last year’s 0.5/3 average in the “Harvey” timeslots.

Still, both “Katie” and “Steve Harvey” look like viable contenders at this point. Whether that’s true for two other newbies, CBS Television Distribution’s “Jeff Probst” and Twentieth’s “Ricki Lake,” is less certain.

“Jeff Probst” premiered Sept. 10 to a 1.0/3 weighted metered-market average, and then averaged a 0.8/3 for its first three days on the air. While that was in line with industry expectations for the show’s early performance, its ratings need to grow for the show to survive.

“Ricki Lake,” cleared on Tribune and Fox-owned stations in the country’s biggest markets, premiered at a 0.8/2, and then dropped to a 0.7/2 three-day average. The show’s ratings need to grow substantially if Lake’s return to daytime is going to stick.

Several veteran talkers had good stories to tell out of premiere week. Disney-ABC’s “Live! With Kelly and Michael” — now in its second week with new co-host, Michael Strahan — opened to strong numbers, while Warner Bros.’ “Ellen,” heading into its 10th season on the air, had its best premiere ever among women 18-49 and women 25-54.

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