As a cardiac surgeon, Dr. Mehmet Oz is used to paying attention to details. And he brings that same laser focus to his Sony-distributed talk show. He visits stations, tapes promotional spots for them and advertisers, does interviews, gathers feedback and pours over ratings books to learn what works and what doesn’t. Those are some of the reasons he’s got syndication’s No. 2 talker.
There may never be another Oprah Winfrey in broadcast syndication. But two talk shows that her Harpo Productions left behind are making the loss of her show at the end of last season a lot easier for TV broadcasters to bear. Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are posting strong double-digit growth in the ratings so far this season.
On March 1, Dr. Mehmet Oz was in Phoenix. He started the day with an early morning interview on a local radio station, but by 7:30 a.m. he was at the local outlet for his second-ranked syndicated talk show, Belo’s independent KTVK, determined to do whatever he could to promote the show.
He co-hosted Good Morning Arizona for two hours. On the set, Oz demonstrated yoga moves, answered viewers’ questions and spoke about multiple health issues. He taped promotional spots for the station and vignettes for advertisers. He contributed a segment for a special primetime telecast of KTVK’s daily lifestyle show Your Life A-Z.
Oz also surprised 10-year-old Kendra Farrell. She’s an Oz fan who had written him a letter. On a school trip to the station, she was at the news desk reading from a teleprompter. Oz tiptoed out and gave Farrell a hug that brought her to tears.
“To have Dr. Oz come in and spend time with Good Morning Arizona and to do a special Your Life A-Z … is priceless,” says Mark Demopoulos, KTVK’s director of research and programming.
“From a client’s perspective, there are advertisers who sponsor the vignettes that Dr. Oz and Sony produce specifically for us. Those clients came out for lunch with him. There are very few people like Dr. Oz who come out and do all that.”
Oz may be the hardest working guy in daytime TV. He tapes two episodes per day, four days a week for three weeks each month during the TV season. And he spends a few days every month on the road to promote the show and to get feedback from stations and their viewers. (A cardiac surgeon, he reserves most Thursdays for the operating room at New York Presbyterian hospital.)
Such devotion to the grassroots is paying off for Oz. His is the No. 2 talk show this season behind only Dr. Phil. Dr. Oz‘s household rating is up 16% over last year, to a 2.9. Among women 25-54, the show is up 14% to a 1.6 rating — tied for No. 2 with Warner Bros.’ Ellen.
“We had our highest rated February sweeps ratings ever,” says John Weiser, president of distribution at Sony. “But, out of sweeps, we maintain our ratings. When you talk to stations, we hear they want shows that deliver 52 weeks a year. That’s what we are focused on.”
Oz says he learns a lot from the visits. “I want to know what my viewers are thinking. Are there elements of the program that are captivating your attention? I want to know what’s working for stations. I also want to know what my advertisers in these markets want. If I understand that, I can help them.”
One of the show’s programming initiatives this season grew out of insights from viewers. It’s called Transformation Nation, a weight loss competition in which viewers vote for the “most transformed” person.
“We’re giving away $1 million,” Oz says. “We’re having an American Idol-type vote off in May. It’s playful. But, on the business side, if we get 1.2 million people to sign up, a goal we’re sure to surpass, that’s an audience we can audit. We can ask them questions about what works on the show and what doesn’t.”
Oz is intensely passionate about the business side of his show. Every Monday, he studies Nielsen’s minute-by-minute ratings to see which segments of his show worked and which didn’t. If the show needs to ax segments that Oz likes but that viewers don’t, so be it.
Dr. Oz and his team changed the structure of the show earlier this year so that it provides a seamless lead into stations’ news, including killing off its end credits, except on some Friday episodes. Its multi-segment structure was cut down by a few segments. The games that he used to have at the end of some episodes are mostly gone.
“We are the news lead-in almost everywhere, which I consider a huge fiduciary responsibility,” says Oz. “We can be lighthearted but it has to be content that a news-seeking audience will want to hear.”
The last few minutes of some episodes were causing stations another headache.
“We were recently told by some affiliates that they thought we were losing viewers because we had too many commercials at the end of the show,” Oz says. “It’s a straightforward issue. So, we fixed it in January and have seen an uptick in viewing in the latter half of episodes.”
Sony has also worked to give Dr. Oz a better chance this season. It aggressively and effectively snagged time slot upgrades, including by taking over 68 former Oprah time periods, mostly as news lead-in. Warner Bros.’ Ellen took over 52 Oprah slots, while Dr. Phil replaced Oprah in 21 markets.
“We recognized early on that we were becoming available as Oprah was going away,” Weiser says. “It seems like a natural transition because we were branded for seven years on the Oprah Winfrey Show. So, the audience had already demonstrated that they had a huge appetite for Dr. Oz.”
After spending his day at KTVK, Oz wasn’t done. He flew to Las Vegas for a visit with Meredith’s Fox affiliate KVVU. That night, he taped segments on the Las Vegas Strip and at the station. And that weekend, he gave the keynote address at a conference of about 2,500 people.
The goal is to seize every opportunity, Oz says. “The thing about broadcast syndication is that you don’t get many shots to swing at the ball. You need to come out with your machine fine-tuned.”