'Paternity Court,' 'Test' aim for 'Maury'-like success

Maury,” the king of so-called conflict talkers, will see a couple of would-be rivals move onto its turf this fall — MGM’s “Paternity Court,” starring lawyer Lauren Lake, and CBS Television Distribution’s “The Test,” produced by Jay McGraw’s Stage 29 Prods. and hosted by standup comedian Kirk Fox.

While NBCUniversal’s “Maury” isn’t as genial as shows like Disney-ABC’s “Live! With Kelly and Michael,” CTD’s “Dr. Phil” or Warner Bros.’ “Ellen,” it’s nevertheless routinely the talk ratings leader among women 18-34 and 18-49. It’s syndication’s youngest show at a median age of 47.4 — and holds onto those viewers for years.

The strip, starring 73-year-old Maury Povich, also holds its own among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54, tied for third place (1.5) with “Live!” season-to-date. CTD’s “Dr. Phil,” which sprinkles in some conflict, leads the talk genre and the demo at a 1.7, while Warner Bros.’ “Ellen” is second (1.6).

Mid-tier conflict talkers, such as NBCU’s “Jerry” and “Steve Wilkos,” both of which average in the mid-ones in household ratings, don’t do as well as “Maury,” but both shows have been on for years and are economically sustainable. “NBCUniversal would not be as aggressively in that business if it didn’t work,” notes Bill Carroll, director of programming at Katz Television Group.

John Bryan, president of MGM Domestic Television Distribution, sees “Paternity Court” as steering a course through two of daytime’s most successful genres. “This show serves as a nice bridge between the two,” he says.

Sean Compton, president of programming and entertainment for Tribune Broadcasting, which is a financial partner in “The Test,” says a sample reel of that show sold him on the idea of getting into the conflict talk game. “When Jay McGraw and Joe DiSalvo (CTD’s president of sales) showed us ‘The Test,’ we fell in love with it,” he says. “They’re both perfectionists, and we had a great experience with CBS in terms of becoming their partners on (this fall’s) ‘Arsenio,’ so we thought, ‘let’s try it again.’ “

Since auds for conflict talkers tend to under-index in household income, they can be a tricky buy for advertisers. Ad time is mostly filled with direct-response ads — those with a 1-800 or 1-866 number attached to them. But many syndicators and station groups don’t see that as a problem.

“Conflict talk isn’t for every advertiser just like animation isn’t for every advertiser,” Compton says. “Still, the higher the ratings, the more likely advertisers will want to be in these shows.”

Carroll also points to younger demographics as an enticement. “In the past, these shows haven’t been the easiest sells,” he says, “but in the end, advertisers go where the viewers are.”

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