By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated September 30, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Look out, Oprah Winfrey: You might need to start watching more than your calories. Rapidly gaining on Oprah as the chat fest of the hour is the Ricki Lake show, hosted by the 26-year-old actress. Although Winfrey’s show is still No. 1, Lake’s ratings have jumped a record 200 percent in one year—tripling her audience. And Lake is second only to Winfrey in the all-important 18-to-49 age bracket. But in what may be the surest sign of success, there are three Lake-show wannabes under consideration. Polishing up their interview skills are singer Carnie Wilson, 26, who is talking with Warner Bros. about hosting a show; Joan Rivers’ daughter, Melissa Rivers, 26, who’s in negotiations with MCA TV; and former Cosby kid Tempestt Bledsoe, 21, who’s having discussions with Dick Clark Productions.

They may copy the formula, but can they make a run at Lake? Although advertisers favor shows that attract twentysomething viewers, it takes more than a young host to assure success. ”Everyone is looking for the next good idea,” says Larry Gerbrandt, vice president at Paul Kagan Associates, a research firm. But, he notes, talk shows are personality-driven: ”You can’t just take two black females and say this will work-just because Oprah works doesn’t mean Rolanda (Watts) will, too.”

Meanwhile, Lake’s producers are not alarmed by the invasion of the imitators. ”There is, to some extent, a finite pool of topics we draw from,” says executive producer Gail Steinberg, ”but where Sally Jessy Raphael might do ‘My Daughter Dresses Like a Tramp,’ we would do ‘My Mother Doesn’t Approve of the Way I Dress.’ When you think of the (Lake) show, you think of something different.” At least for a little while longer.

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