While Debmar-Mercury’s new talker Wendy Williams, which had its national debut on July 13 after a test run on four Fox O&Os last summer, is doing well in New York and Los Angeles, its ratings in other markets are less than hoped. But, say its syndicator, affiliates and others, with 30 new stations coming on board and viewers returning to their TV sets in the fall, it’s way too soon to count it out.
Wendy Williams would be doing just fine if it could handpick a few markets to remain on the air, like New York and Los Angeles, where it’s pulling decent ratings, and dump the many markets where its ratings are fractions of a rating point.
But that’s an option not open to the show featuring the former radio personality, which had its national debut on July 13 after a promising test run on four Fox O&Os last summer. The show is sold on a cash-plus-barter basis and, for barter, it needs a significant national audience.
Despite the disappointing early numbers, Debmar-Mercury, the show’s distributor, and others remain hopeful that the ratings could rise and that the sassy talker could become a fixture on TV schedules.
They point out that the show doesn’t even have full distribution yet. Coverage now stands at 72 percent, but will be going up to 90 percent next month when 30 additional stations, representing a range of station groups, begin airing it.
“It’s a little too early to judge the ratings — the TV market is so fragmented it takes people a while to find anything,” says Chris Wolf, director of programming and creative services at WTOG Tampa, Fla., which airs Wendy at 2 p.m. “My impression of the show is that it’s living up to everything they said it would be. It’s interesting. It’s different. And she’s strong as a host.”
Another programmer agrees, adding that he’ll give the show until first quarter to find an audience before deciding if it’s working for his stations or not.
“Daytime is just such a habit-driven daypart,” he says. “It takes a really long time for something to take over. I can’t think of any show that has been an overnight success.”
Some programmers also say that Wendy‘s performance in the summer, when TV viewers are in short supply, isn’t necessarily a good indication of how it will do in the fall.
There aren’t many examples of talk shows that premiered in the summer, but the most prominent of these did pick up steam in the fall, although, unlike Wendy, it started out strong.
In 1996, Rosie premiered in June, when it took over for the failed Carnie. Rosie debuted with a 3.2 household rating in its first month and bounded up to a 3.9 by that September.
TV ratings are a lot lower these days because viewers are scattering to an ever-growing number of entertainment options like the Internet and mobile devices that weren’t everyday media in 1996.
Wendy had a 0.9 household rating the week ending Aug. 9, based on final national ratings released on Tuesday.
“I don’t think most stations anticipated it would initially deliver significant household ratings,” says Bill Carroll, vice president of TV programming at sales rep firm Katz Television. “I think what they were hoping for is for younger demos and sampling. For the most part, at least in the overnight markets, the numbers have been pretty good.”
Nationally, its ratings in the key demos have mostly been holding steady, with a 0.7 most weeks for women 18-34, its core audience, and 0.6 for women 18-49 and 0.7 for women 25-54.
It had a 0.6 rating in each demographic the week ending Aug. 9, a week deep into the summer when many syndicated shows slipped from prior weeks.
The positive news is found in the top two markets. In New York, on the Fox O&O, Wendy averaged a 1.9 rating and 14 share among women 18-34 in its first four weeks, better than its lead-in and lead-out shows, based on local people meter data. The show had its best performance so far in week two, with a 2.2/18. It had a 2/14 its third week. The week ending Aug. 16 it got a 1.8/15.
In Los Angeles, it hit a high in week three with a 1.3/7. It averaged a 1.0/6 in its first four weeks. It had a 1.1/6 the week ending Aug. 16.
It has also been getting stronger in recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston and Portland, Ore., albeit not consistently and mostly from low bases. But it’s still weak in a many other markets, including Dallas and San Francisco.
Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, is hoping the show rides the wave of increased TV viewing that comes in September.
Bernstein notes that Wendy‘s lead-in shows in some markets will be pulling stronger ratings with original episodes than they are now with reruns.
Moreover, TV viewers around the country are becoming more familiar with Williams, who recently left her radio show to focus on Wendy, largely due to Williams’ promotional appearances on stations carrying the show.
“Before she went on the air, she went to a lot of markets,” notes Bernstein. “And there are probably six markets over the next few weeks she’ll get to. When people see her on a local news show, they love her.”
But the show can’t rely on just New York, Los Angeles and a handful of other market, he acknowledges.
“There aren’t the economics to support that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.”