AS IF BOYFRIENDS of geriatric strippers don’t have enough problems already! These days, they’re having more and more trouble finding airtime.
Recently, controversial daytime trashfests have been getting dumped faster than you can say ”Take it to the curb, girlfriend!” So far, three hosts have been handed pink slips: Gabrielle Carteris, Danny Bonaduce, and Charles Perez. Other rookies, including Carnie Wilson and ex-Cosby kid Tempestt Bledsoe, are said to be endangered, and in the face of sliding ratings, even the granddaddy of the genre, Phil Donahue, may shortly hang up his mike.
Why the shakeout? It might seem that moral crusader William Bennett converted the entire industry. After all, the cancellations came just months after the former secretary of education declared war on the talk genre, blasting it as ”cultural pollution” and urging advertisers to pull their support. ”We struck a chord with people,” says Kristen Blair, a policy analyst with Bennett’s group Empower America. ”We’re happy that Charles Perez is going off the air.”
Actually, Perez and friends would likely be sending out resumes even if Bennett had chosen to attack Jell-O wrestling instead. Analysts say trash television easily replaced the few advertisers — including Procter & Gamble — that have scampered away. And most fans of dysfunction TV couldn’t care less about Bennett’s warnings. No, these cancellations came on the recommendation of a different big name: A.C. Nielsen. Charles Perez, for instance, averaged fewer than 2 million viewers for the first half of the current season, as compared with the 9 million usually drawn by the top-rated Oprah Winfrey Show. None of the other snuffed-out hours did any better. ”There are too many of these shows and not enough people to watch them,” explains Steve Sternberg, a senior partner with the advertising firm of BJK&E. ”As Suzanne Somers found out last year, three’s company — twenty’s a crowd.”
This is especially true when most of the nearly two dozen gabfests are copies of one show: Ricki Lake. Since 1993, Lake’s high-decibel guests and eye-rolling attitude have earned her a coveted Gen X following. But the vanload of Ricki-come-latelys were half as charming; they never got a Nielsen foothold. ”Ricki Lake was a phenomenon, not a trend,” says Bill Carroll, a vice president with the media representative firm of Katz Communications.
Programmers are now looking for daytime’s next big thing. Maybe, they figure, they should clone Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford. Hitting the airwaves is a fluffy chat show cohosted by actor Jim J. Bullock and ex-televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, and a syndicated version of the Nashville-based duo Crook & Chase. Also on the slate is a talk show with comedian Rosie O’Donnell, an issues-oriented show with Extra’s Maureen O’Boyle, a show with Dr. Donna Willis, and a program hosted by self-help guru John Bradshaw.
Meanwhile, two trash hosts are trying to save themselves with a gimmick: moral makeovers. Both Geraldo Rivera and Mark Walberg have promised to forgo ”My Man’s Too Kinky”-type topics in favor of weightier stuff.