Life Beyond Oprah Comes Into Focus

Appropriately, an Oprah spin-off, Sony's Dr. Oz, can be declared the nominal Oprah replacement, having snagged her coveted news lead-in slot in more than 80 markets. But it's no guarantee of success. With Oprah gone in the fall, the time period will be a wide open and highly competitive battleground where it’s quite possible no show or station will carve out  a wide advantage.

The end of The Oprah Winfrey Show is bigger than the end of the most dominant talk show on daytime television. It’s also a lifestyle change for some stations.

In many markets, the station with Winfrey on at 4 p.m. had an automatic ratings leg up over the competition, boosting its 5 p.m. newscast and the entire evening lineup.

This was no temporary condition. Even with declining viewership, the Oprah halo effect was reliable for most of the last two decades. She was a part of their environment and seven million still watch every day.

The show cost a fortune, stations would complain. But it paid dividends to the newscasts that followed.  

The last new show will air next Wednesday (May 25). The next day, she’ll switch to reruns until the show leaves the air for good in September. 

That’s when the fun really begins because most “Winfrey stations” have already picked the show that will replace her in their market. They are now hoping they made the right bet.


The winner so far seems to be Dr. Oz, a talk show whose star, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, got his start as a frequent Winfrey guest. The Sony Pictures Television show will enter its third year in syndication this fall. Sony says it’s picked up 83 of those “Winfrey spots.”

“I think that’s more than all the other syndicated shows combined,” says John Weiser, president of Sony Pictures Television.

“And we’ll be in approximately 150 markets where we will be the news lead,” he says, adding in the non-Winfrey stations that also will air Oz at 4. “That’s gigantic.” And Weiser thinks it’s possible Sony will pick up more converts between now and September.


DMA Market Station Owner Time New Show
1 New York WABC ABC 4 p.m. Local news
2 Los Angeles KABC ABC 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
3 Chicago WLS ABC 9 a.m. Windy City Live
4 Philadelphia WPVI ABC 4 p.m. Local news
5 Dallas WFAA Belo 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
6 San Francisco KGO ABC 4 p.m. Local news
7 Boston WCVB Hearst 4 p.m. Ellen DeGeneres
8 Atlanta WSB Cox 4 p.m. Local news
9 Washington WJLA Albritton 4 p.m. Anderson Cooper
10 Houston KHOU Belo 4 p.m. Undisclosed
11 Detroit WXYZ Scripps 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
12 Phoenix KTVK Belo 3 p.m. Dr. Oz
13 Seattle KING Belo 4 p.m. Undisclosed
14 Tampa WFLA Media General 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
15 Minn-St.Paul WCCO CBS 4 p.m. Ellen DeGeneres
16 Miami WFOR CBS 4 p.m. Dr. Phil
17 Denver KCNC CBS 4 p.m. Local news
18 Cleveland WEWS Scripps 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
19 Orlando WFTV Cox 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
20 Sacramento KCRA Hearst 4 p.m. Undisclosed
21 St. Louis KSDK Gannett 4 p.m. Undisclosed
22 Portland KGW Cox 4 p.m. Local news
23 Charlotte WSOC Cox 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
24 Pittsburgh WTAE Hearst 4 p.m. Dr. Oz
25 Raleigh-Durham WTVD ABC 4 p.m. Local news

After Oz, it appears Warner Bros.’ The Ellen DeGeneres Show has captured the second most Winfrey spots, with more than 25 going the comedian’s way. Other syndicated shows that have inherited some of the coveted spots: CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil, which in some cases is moving from 3 p.m. where the show now plays in many markets; the top-rated Judge Judy, also from CBS; and Warner Bros.’ Anderson, a newcomer featuring Anderson Cooper.

In the Top 25 markets, according to a survey of syndicators and stations, Oz will get Winfrey spots in nine markets, including Los Angeles. Ellen will grab two (Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul). Dr. Phil (Miami) and Anderson (Washington) will take one each.

In six Top 25 markets, stations have chosen to eschew syndication and run local news. That’s the tack that ABC is taking in New York, Philadelphia and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and what CBS has decided to do in Denver, and Cox in Atlanta and Portland, Ore. Most of them are launching their newscasts on May 26, the day after Winfrey’s farewell show, while other stations plan to keep running Winfrey reruns until September.

In Chicago, where the show began and will end, Winfrey airs at 9 a.m., as it always has. ABC-owned WLS is substituting a new local morning show, Morning Rush after the farewell.

Oprahcasters in four markets (Houston; Sacramento, Calif.; Seattle and St. Louis) have yet to declare their plans for the time slot.

The local programs can be cheaper and become better watched than syndicated shows in untested time periods. And with another election cycle rapidly approaching, an extra newscast is a magnet for campaigns often frantic to find newscast positions for political ads. 

Going where Oprah has gone before is no guarantee of success. Because two of her biggest competitors, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, got their start appearing on Winfrey’s show, contractually, stations couldn’t put them up against her show.

That situation created a protected time slot, which was good for the station that had her. But that ends for everybody once she’s gone, making 4 p.m. a wide open and highly competitive battleground where it’s quite possible no show or station will carve out  a wide advantage.

“I think anytime we lose an icon, it kind of sets us all back for awhile,” says Mike Hayes, general manager of the Pittsburgh Hearst station, WTAE, which will be replacing Oprah with Oz this fall. “It’s an industry reset.” 

He expects the 4 p.m. time period to shake out over time. He’s pleased with Oz, which currently wins its time period playing earlier in the day on rival WPXI. “Any successful show needs three things: The right timing, the right content and the right talent. I think he’s got it.”

Sony is trying to make the most of its opportunity, pledging close cooperation with stations. It has set up a program for informing them of upcoming Oz topics and providing them with graphics, information and multiplatform packages that so they can integrate the topics into their newscasts and local marketing.

“We recognize the importance and responsibility we have to stations,” Weiser says. “So, we have been traveling to every local market meeting with sales and news directors, working with them on how the Dr. Oz Show content can become fully integrated into their newscasts.”

But Oz ain’t Oprah.

Oz, whose show appears in 206 markets, is averaging 3.3 million viewers, year to date, according to Nielsen. But his 2.4 rating is down a notable 11% this season.

“They have incredible confidence in Oz,” says a syndication source. “That’s interesting … and odd.” 

One dubious station marketing executive sniffs, “You’ve got to be really interested in small intestines.” He questions how much stations can use the health-related tie-ins that Oz will provide. 

Warner Bros., which is selling Anderson, makes the bold claim that Cooper will be making daily headlines on his talk show and making the show the perfect companion for a local newscast. But a doubting syndication source wonders how much time Cooper can give to the talk show when he’s still hosting a nightly show on CNN and racing around the world to hot spots at a moment’s notice.

With Oprah viewers, Cooper’s news niche might makes sense, say two sources, one on the station level and the other familiar with the syndication business.

“Where would Maria Shriver go in daytime to be interviewed after Oprah’s gone?” asks the station source, referring to the dust-up after it was revealed that actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with a family housekeeper more than a decade ago. (Where Shriver actually went was to one of Winfrey’s farewell shows in Chicago, as it turns out.)

The syndication expert acknowledges the Cooper station lineup doesn’t have the best time slots or stations at launch. He calls the Cooper station lineup a place holder that looks like it does because the show came together too late for Warner Bros. to shop it. In this syndicator’s view, it’s really a case of “wait until next year” when the competition shakes out. 

Ellen made its pitch for non-Oprah 4 p.m. spots last year and will be well represented in the time period, without much of a need to grab Winfrey spots this year. Warner Bros. research says Winfrey fans like DeGeneres, too, for light fare, and hope they’ll find Anderson for the newsier topics.

In the meantime, Oz is getting some Oprah plums and has a shot at being Oprah’s true heir. “When you get away from the ABC-owned footprint, that’s where a lot of major markets, like Detroit’s WXYZ , have had a giant Oprah time period,” Weiser notes. “So we’re moving Oz over from the NBC station to be the news lead-in on WXYZ. That’s a big partnership for us.”

Comments (5)

Leave a Reply

Mark K. Miler says:

May 19, 2011 at 10:51 am

WXYZ is owned by Scripps, not Post-Newsweek as indicated in your chart.

    Linda Stewart says:

    May 19, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Of course it is. We’ve fixed.

Kathryn Miller says:

May 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

We’ll know things have come full circle when somebody announces that “People Are Talking” is replacing Oprah. The post-Oprah version of that show (put into syndication, sort of) was somewhat dull.

Jeremy Montoya says:

May 22, 2011 at 1:47 am

And, Belo owns Portland’s KGW and not Cox.

Susan Kim says:

June 6, 2011 at 5:18 am

WLS-TV’s new morning show is called “Windy City LIVE,” not “Morning Rush.”

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