Martha Stewart hangs on to daytime TV slot. King World renews her show for a 10th season, but will pre-empt it in key markets with a new morning show

As Martha Stewart famously said when ”The Early Show”’s Jane Clayson pressed her a few weeks ago for details on her controversial stock trading, ”I want to focus on my salad.” In fact, while she’s been absent from her regular visits to the CBS morning show ever since, she’s still been able to focus on her salad (and other household projects) on the syndicated ”Martha Stewart Living.” There was some speculation as to whether her stock scandal would creep into the daytime series, in the form of advertiser defections or decreased ratings, but that hasn’t happened. Still, there were indications this week that the scandal is catching up with ”Living.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter, syndicator King World has ended some of the speculation by renewing ”Living” for a 10th season. However, King World has also announced a new daytime show for fall 2003 called ”Living It Up,” a morning chatfest featuring former ABC News correspondent Jack Ford and comic actress Alexandra Wentworth (the wife of Clinton aide-turned-ABC ”This Week” host George Stephanopoulos), who’s best known for her sketch comedy stint on ”In Living Color” and for her role as Jerry’s ”shmoopy” girlfriend in the classic ”Soup Nazi” episode of ”Seinfeld.” According to the Reporter, ”Living it Up” has already been picked up by two of Stewart’s flagship stations, the CBS outlets in New York and Los Angeles. It will go out on a live feed from WCBS in New York at 9 a.m., the time Stewart’s taped show airs on the East Coast.

So it’s still not clear whether ”Living” will ultimately be replaced by its syndicator’s new pet project. ”King World is looking at other opportunities for daytime,” industry analyst Bill Carroll tells the Reporter. ”They have had success with ‘Martha Stewart,’ and some might say that ‘Living It Up’ is a replacement,” says Carroll, who’s the director of programming at New York firm Katz Television. ”Others might say that it is a possible companion show for the coming season. Events may help to determine which it is.”

By ”events,” he means how the current scandal plays out. She’s facing three federal investigations into her alleged insider trade of nearly 4,000 ImClone shares last December, the day before the stock price tanked on news that the FDA wouldn’t approve the company’s new cancer drug. Stewart claims that she left a standing order with her broker to sell the shares if the price dipped below $60, but investigators have found no record of such an order. E-mails released last week seem to support the reported assertion of Douglas Faneuil, her broker’s assistant, that the limit-order story was a cover-up ordered by his boss to bury the brokerage’s reported alert to Stewart of the coming FDA news on the day of her sale.

Although Stewart has not been charged with a crime, the bad press has already coincided with a 65 percent drop in the market value of Stewart’s own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, since the scandal broke in June. Even if she stays out of legal trouble, she may lose her hold on advertisers and viewers. At least she’ll still be able to chop a mean salad.

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