Vet syndies yakkers go silent

'Oprah,' 'Sally,' 'Rosie' call it quits

This article was corrected on March 20, 2002.

HOLLYWOOD — Jaws dropped last week as two of the longest-running strips going, “The Sally Jessy Raphael Show” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” announced their exits within days of each other.

“Sally” will call it quits at the end of the current season, while “Oprah” has pinpointed signoff at the end of the 2005-2006 season.

In addition, yakker Rosie O’Donnell has already said she’ll be leaving this spring, while “Jenny Jones” still lacks key clearances necessary to return for another year.

There are signs that viewers want to hear themselves think in daytime, tuning in more and more to non-talk options on cablers TLC and Lifetime.

“Cable has matured as an alternative,” admits Roger King, CEO of “Oprah” distributor King World.

He complains that too many “garbage … exploitative” talkers are on the air, and the syndicators need to come up with something better “or cable will beat us.”

Fighting back, Paramount is launching “Life Moments” next fall. (Some elements of TLC’s “A Wedding Story,” “A Baby Story” and “A Dating Story” can be found within the show.)

In fact, Paramount execs are attaching to “Life Moments” the tagline “Bringing Women Back to Daytime,” in order to draw in stations and advertisers.

“Talk shows have gotten to be so extreme that viewers are getting pushed elsewhere,” says Tara Sandler, co-founder of Pie Town Productions (“A Baby Story,” “A Dating Story”) and an executive producer on “Life Moments.”

“Seeing a baby getting born is more accessible and more real to people than hearing about someone sleeping with their neighbor’s wife.”

Still, “Sally,” “Oprah,” “Jenny” and “Rosie” deserve kudos for solid runs.

Few strips can say they’ve made it 20 years, which is how “Sally” and “Oprah” will essentially end their careers. All four have been on top of the TV world at some point in their life spans.

So, “Is the talk genre dead?” asks Steve Rosenberg, who oversees “Sally’s” distribution at Studios USA. “No, not at all.”

But, he says, what threatens the syndication world is that “when anything works there are 50 incarnations of it that cannibalize each other.”

With 13 chatterers battling it out in syndication, not to mention a slew of cable programs milking the same genre, “it was hard to stem the tide of viewer erosion” on “Sally” these past several seasons, he says.

Not that Rosenberg didn’t try, installing a new showrunner and set this year.

But with “Sally’s” 1.7 season-to-date score, 32% below where she was this time last year, Rosenberg knew it was time to call it quits.

“Oprah” is holding much steadier this season (5.8, down 6%) — proof for King that it’s not time for the last word on talk.

King already has plans to launch a 2003 chat strip, aiming it as a companion to “Dr. Phil,” the upcoming King World/Paramount talk project.

Moreover, Columbia Tri-Star’s aging “Ricki” has been falling sharply in the ratings, but execs aren’t yet ready to throw in the towel.

We’ll see noticeable changes with its format by next season, Col TriStar execs promise.

As for the last gasp on all this, King assures that talk will stay a TV fixture.

“When that meteor lands on our planet, there will be a talkshow for it to hit,” he insists.

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