Last week before the February sweeps was a lackluster one.

One week before the start of February sweeps, even Oprah’s public berating of author James Frey failed to provide much of a ratings boost for syndies, according to Nielsen’s live plus same day ratings for the week ending Jan. 29.

Disgraced writer Frey took a verbal beating on King World’s The Oprah Winfrey Show on Monday, Jan. 26. The talk-show queen had spent much of the previous weeks defending Frey and his so-called memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which Winfrey had selected for her book club, making it an instant best-seller and Frey a wealthy man. After Frey finally admitted that many parts of the book had been embellished or even wholly fabricated, Winfrey retracted her support but not before giving Frey a public thrashing.

Even though publicity around the squabble was sky-high, the show turned in only a 7.5 household rating. While that was Oprah’s highest rating for the week, it’s not particularly high for the top talker, which often scores huge ratings with big celebrity appearances and exclusive interviews. In fact, the previous day’s episode on a “bank-robbing dad and the shocked sons who turned him in,” did as well, also scoring a 7.5.

The Frey episode did win the week in terms of viewers, averaging 8.303 million viewers compared to 8.249 million viewers for the show featuring the bank-robbing dad.

For the full week, Oprah averaged a 7.3, down 8% from the week before when the show scored a 7.9. Compared to last year at this time, Oprah was down 5%.

Besides Oprah, syndication in general was down. Most day-and-date shows are looking forward to the February sweeps, which started Thursday, Feb. 2, and levels of people using television (or PUT levels) were down by an average of three million viewers from the prior week. Also, some syndicated shows were preempted on Monday, Jan. 26, due to a presidential press conference.


Talk shows in general were lackluster. None of the 11 talkers were up, although NBC Universal’s Starting Over, which isn’t likely to return in the fall, remained at its season-high 1.2 for a second straight week. Also holding steady were Warner Bros.’ Ellen at a 2.5 and NBC U’s rookie Martha at a 1.8. Ellen also had the only year-to-year increase among talk shows, jumping 4%.

In second place, CBS Paramount’s Dr. Phil earned a 5.3, down 4% for the week, but unchanged from last year. Buena Vista’s Live with Regis and Kelly, in repeats for part of the week, averaged a 3.4, down 6% from last week and last year. NBC U’s Maury had the biggest week-to-week decline of any talker, down 12% at a 2.9 and down 6% from last year. NBC U’s Jerry Springer at a 2.2 was down 4% from last week and last year, but Springer bumped CBS Paramount’s Montel Williams out of sixth place, usurping that position for the first time since the week of Dec. 12. At a 2.1, Montel was down 8% for the week, and down 22% from last year, the biggest year-to-year slide of any talker.

Among the rookies, Warner Bros.’ Tyra Banks averaged a 1.6, down 6%, although Tyra topped Martha in all key female demos, even among women 25-54.

The court shows were largely flat. CBS Paramount’s Judge Judy, the court leader, scored a 5.1, up 2% for the week but down 6% from last year. Judy was one of only two court shows down from last year. CBS Paramount’s Judge Joe Brown at a 3.4 was flat week-to-week but down 8% year to year.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ People’s Court was unchanged at a season-high 3.0 and up 7% from last year. Twentieth’s Divorce Court was unchanged both week-to-week and year-to-year at a 2.8. Warner Bros.’ Judge Mathis was unchanged at a 2.6 and up 4% from last year. Sony’s Judge Hatchett was down 5% to a 1.9, but up 6% from last year. And the rookie, Twentieth’s Judge Alex, was down 4% to a 2.3.

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