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Meet Cat Greenleaf: Her Ad-Break Talk Show Helps USA Notch Daytime Ratings

Advertisers may look to the USA cable outlet for shows like “Suits” or reruns of “Modern Family.” But they are also taking an interest in someone who never appears on the network’s primetime schedule.

Since September, traffic reporter turned daytime host Cat Greenleaf has held forth during commercial breaks for NBCUniversal’s USA on a segment called “Talk Stoop,” where she entices Al Roker, Lauren Cohan and Jessica St. Clair to the steps of her Brooklyn home for conversation, and lets advertisers hawk their wares in the background. This week, for example, viewers will get to find out what color she is painting her front door, courtesy of Ace Hardware.

“Everyone comes on the stoop because they are promoting something,” Greenleaf said. But she uses her acumen, forged in dozens of quirky interviews over the years, to take the exchanges to a different place. “We always talk about what they came to discuss,” she said, but “my new favorite opening is ‘What do you want to talk about?’ I want to know what’s on their minds. It paves the way for interesting conversation.”

Clever chat is only one thing USA has promoted by enlisting Greenleaf to “host” its daytime schedule between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  The network says its daytime ratings among viewers between 18 and 49, the demographic advertisers covet, is up 8% year to date.

Having Greenleaf on the schedule is a deliberate attempt to build the network’s live audience during the day, which in turn helps USA promote its entire programming schedule to a wider array of potential viewers and gives advertisers more audience to hear pitches. “The onus is on us as programmers and marketers to give people a compelling reason to watch live,” said Alexandra Shapiro, executive vice president of marketing and digital for USA.

The move highlights the importance of daytime programming for many of the nation’s biggest cable networks. USA typically stocks its schedule during these hours with “NCIS” and “Law & Order: SVU,” popular dramas that anyone can tune into because they have self-contained storylines.  Cable networks have played a hand in a massive reworking of the timeslot, which was once dominated by broadcast-network soap operas and talk shows. Now, USA sometimes hosts themed “marathons” from its hit-drama cache, while other players, like Discovery Communications Investigation Discovery, have mined viewership by using programs that play upon some of the tabloid-and-scandal themes that made the soaps such durable couch-potato constructions.

“Our job is how we aggregate as many eyeballs from 6 a.m. until we get into that primetime block,” said Shapiro. “We are getting smarter about how we give people a reason for staying and watching and laddering them up vertically within our programming schedule.”

In recent weeks, Greenleaf’s vignettes have attracted the likes of PepsiCo’s Tropicana Pure Premium. The Ace Hardware promotion actually got its start in late April, when viewers were urged to go online and vote for what color the host should paint her door. This week, an Ace expert was slated to appear with her in a 60-second piece of content and actually apply the new shade to her home. During the week of June 16, “Talk Stoop” will host celebrities and their pets, in segments sponsored by Big Heart Pet Brands’ Milk-Bone.

The USA gig is the latest in a string of interesting appearances for Greenleaf, who got her start as an airborne traffic reporter for a San Francisco TV station, then found her way to the east coast, doing gigs for NY1, DIY and Travel Channel. A job at NBC-owned WNBC in New York led her to feature reporting and, eventually, a host spot on “Talk Stoop,” which she booked and produced herself. The show made its way on to digital-cable channels operated by NBC stations, as well as into segments in New York taxicabs and into the post-“Saturday Night Live” timeslot on WNBC.

“I wanted to do something different than what I was seeing in the landscape,” she said.  The idea for interviewing famous folk on the steps of her home came to her in her sleep, she recounted, and “I came into work and I pitched it, and everyone was too busy to say ‘No.’” Her next idea: some sort of late-night extension of the show.  During some “Stoop”episodes shot as the day came to an end, “we got to some topics I might not have talked about when the sun was shining,’ she said, “I enjoyed that freedom.”

USA has taken the show on the road, even building a “mobile stoop” so Greenleaf can interview people in different parts of the country. USA’s Shapiro would like to explore the idea of Greenleaf conducting interviews on the floor of a restaurant sponsor or in other “client environments, in the same way she does it when she’s on her own stoop.” Greenleaf’s next step may require her to get off the ones with which she is so familiar.

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