PR pros ply skills amid shifting sands | Bunkered with the bookers

It’s not quite the equivalent of putting the aged and infirm onto ice floes. But the tide is definitely going out on TV’s talkshow titans.

With the Millennial/Gen-Y crowd increasingly dominating key demos, perhaps Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Mary Hart saw the writing on the wall as they made plans to leave their long-enduring perches. They and other staples of the chat realm are set to exit within the next 18 months, and there are no clear replacements in sight, owing to cost considerations and diminishing auds for the genre as a whole.

With Baby Boomers heading north of 60 and even Gen-Xers creeping toward their mid-40s, the Millennials are reshaping the chatshow landscape, as much by what they do watch as by what they don’t.

For starters, the Millennial crowd has cultivated a very different talkshow habit than their parents. Bombarded all day with celebrity Tweets and star-fueled blogs, the under-35 set doesn’t look at chat shows the way the previous generation once did.

And with clips of latenight highlights at their fingertips online (Jon Stewart segments, Jimmy Fallon bits or Jimmy Kimmel parodies), they’re also watching these shows in chunks rather than as a whole.

In latenight, the traditional central battleground of the talkshow realm, the Millennial influence is taking down the staples. As the networks have aged in latenight, young viewers have been targeted as aggressively by cable: “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” “Chelsea Lately” and “Lopez Tonight” — and, of course, TBS’ upcoming Conan O’Brien yakker.

“The biggest factor that came into the equation has been the evolution of talk or talk-like programming on cable,” says Katz TV analyst Bill Carroll.

But even talk is being overshadowed a bit by other fare: Adult Swim’s 11:30 p.m. block averages close to a 1 rating among adults 18-49, beating the cable competish and even coming close to “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

And at Comedy Central, even critical faves like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” aren’t drawing as large an audience as entries such as the web-centric comedy series “Tosh.0” (which, granted, airs earlier).

“It’s been more difficult to aim at a younger audience (with talk),” Carroll notes.

But while programmers are at least still trying to target young viewers in latenight, they’ve basically given up in daytime.

In daytime, the key women 25-54 demo is now comprised 61% of Millennials and Gen-Xers. Boomers now make up just 39% of the aud.

In the 1990s, “Ricki Lake” targeted the Gen-X and younger crowd, as Boomers continued to flock to talk queen Oprah Winfrey. Yet programmers haven’t yet found the Millennial generation’s own Ricki. The show now closest to that audience, “Tyra Banks,” is actually out of production and in permanent repeats, as the audience still wasn’t large enough to keep it alive in originals.

“A lot has to do with timing and finding the right personality,” Caroll says, referring to the lack of a young-skewing daytime talker. “Right now, producers haven’t found the right one.”

It’s become a Catch-22 for programmers: Young viewers aren’t watching talk, so stations, networks and cablers have kept with the shows and hosts that have aged along with their audience. But those older-skewing hosts and shows are scaring Millennials away from the genre. (Don’t believe it? Find a clip online of Larry King attempting to interview Lady Gaga.)

“That shift in audience, with the Boomers moving out of the demo, is going to be one of the more important generational shifts,” says one studio exec. “These 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds are not the same people. They have different life experiences, a different ethnic makeup. To continue to program to them with the same programming (is foolish).”

According to Warner Bros. analysis of Nielsen data, 40% of adults 18-54 consist of the “Millennial” generation. That will leap to 70% by 2014.

Also, in the women 25-54 demo — a key one for daytime talk — Boomers now make up just 39% of the aud, with 61% comprised of Millennials and Gen-Xers.

“The people who inhabit that demo has changed,” the exec says. “There’s not as much loyalty.”

Such a generational shift also comes as the talkshow world faces a major shakeup over the next year. Oprah Winfrey will retire from syndication and head to cable; Larry King is about to exit his CNN post; and even “Entertainment Tonight” staple Mary Hart is heading to the mountains.

And in latenight, Leno and Letterman would seem to be heading toward retirement. Carson was 66 when he retired; Letterman is now 63, while Leno is 60.

License fees slashed

Changing demos also means changing economics. Networks, looking to tighten their belts, have turned to trimming latenight, which isn’t the cash cow it once was. Letterman took a haircut, as his license fee was reduced. Leno is also believed to be making less than he once did. And in syndication, with the recession giving them a true smackdown, stations finally put their foot down and told distributors that they were not going to pay the tremendous license fees that they had in the past.

Winfrey, who was expected to see her license cut in half, opted to end her show instead. “Stations were devastated by the license fees they paid,” one exec said.

Another syndie star, Martha Stewart, also saw her audience erode enough that she managed to find an exit strategy: to cable, where she’s now a staple on the Hallmark Channel.

But with the old guard departing, it’s unlikely those hosts’ replacements will suddenly attract younger auds. Many of the ABC-owned stations carrying “Oprah” will to replace it with old-skewing newscasts. On CNN, King is likely to be replaced by Piers Morgan, who’s semi-familiar to youngsters thanks to “America’s Got Talent.” But cable news is still an old demo game.

“We’re going backwards,” says one programming exec. “People are getting more cautious. But the population that inhabits 25-54 will have completely changed within another five years. All the Boomers will be out of it. And the demo will consist of people watching different things with different habits.”