With old pros like Kelly Ripa and newbies like Jeff Probst, TV is betting midday audiences will be buzzing again

By Lynette Rice
Updated December 02, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

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On a recent episode of CBS’ The Talk, host Julie Chen was leading a discussion about the Sexiest Man Alive — so of course, she turned to the panel’s resident lesbian to kick things off. ”I don’t know I’m the right person to start this topic, but okay,” cracked cohost Sara Gilbert. ”I like more of a guy’s guy, like Johnny Depp, James Franco, Ellen DeGeneres…” ”You’re bad,” said Chen, as the audience laughed. ”I told you Sara has a streak in her.” It just took a while to unearth. The Talk — which was spoofed on Saturday Night Live earlier this year as a vapid show hosted by robotic wallflowers — is finally finding its voice, thanks to the addition of comics Aisha Tyler and Sheryl Underwood. And given the swiftly changing economics of daytime TV, it’s already considered a success by CBS: Though The Talk has yet to do better than the soap it replaced (2 million viewers versus the 2.5 million who watched As the World Turns in its final year), it costs nearly 40 percent less to produce. ”Daytime talk is such a weird thing,” admits Chen. ”The fact we got a second season is huge for us.”

Not really, if you consider what’s currently happening in daytime. With the death of soap operas, the void left by Oprah Winfrey, the recent departure of Regis Philbin from Live! With Regis and Kelly, and an ever-shrinking audience (female viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 have dropped 13 percent this season, from 2.9 million to 2.5 million), the talk-show world is poised to undergo a huge metamorphosis over the next year. ABC has already replaced the soap All My Children with foodie talk show The Chew (averaging 2 million, which is less than AMC‘s 2.5 million, but again cheaper to produce) and will launch One Life to Live‘s replacement, a lifestyle talker called The Revolution, on Jan. 16. Syndicators, meanwhile, are on the hunt for the next queen (or king) of daytime: No fewer than six celebrities will make a play for the throne in 2012, including ex-CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, Survivor‘s Jeff Probst, Family Feud host Steve Harvey, Dancing With the Stars contestant (and former talk-show host) Ricki Lake, and Maury guest host Trisha Goddard. ”This year in particular, daytime is up for grabs,” says Paul Franklin, general sales manager of 20th Television, which is rolling out The Ricki Lake Show next September. ”It will be the year of the talk show.”

Even with all those talking heads vying for the same audience, networks say there’s still money to be made in daytime. CBS chief Leslie Moonves recently told a conference of financial analysts that his network went from losing $25 million to making an anticipated $100 million in daytime by canning two soaps and adding talk and game shows. It’s no wonder that ABC is attempting to follow CBS’ lead with multihost panel shows The Chew and The Revolution. ”People are really interested in multiple points of view, multiple voices,” says Brian Frons, ABC’s head of daytime. ”Daytime viewers are also saying that if they are going to give us an hour a day, we need to give them something that is going to improve their lives.” That certainly speaks to the success of the syndicated advice series Dr. Phil; at 4 million viewers, it’s currently the No. 1 show in daytime, followed by the syndicated The Dr. Oz Show (3.7 million) and ABC’s The View (3.7 million). Even better: A daytime show that can sell cookbooks or offer online weight-loss tips is much better than, say, a soap opera that doesn’t. ”All of daytime is learning to survive on smaller audience shares because there are so many choices,” says Frons. ”You can’t spend more money for less audience. That’s why you see people going toward programming forms that cost less to produce.”

For now, it seems the low-cost programming of choice will remain talk shows. ”Viewers are still attracted to them,” argues Franklin, who thinks fresh players like Lake, Couric, and Probst — not to mention Queen Latifah in 2013 — will continue to boost interest in the genre. ”Clearly, these shows have a tendency to work, a tendency to succeed. They will be around a long time.”

Top 5 Network Talk Shows
1. The View (ABC), 3.7 mil*
2. Today: Kathie Lee & Hoda (NBC), 2.1 mil
3. The Chew (ABC), 2.0 mil
4. The Talk (CBS), 2.0 mil
5. Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers (The CW), 1.2 mil

Top 10 Syndicated Talk Shows
1. Dr. Phil, 4.0 mil
2. The Dr. Oz Show, 3.7 mil
3. Live! With Regis and Kelly, 3.4 mil
4. Maury, 3.2 mil
5. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, 3.0 mil
6. The Jerry Springer Show, 2.1 mil
7. Rachael Ray, 2.0 mil
8. The Doctors, 1.9 mil
9. The Steve Wilkos Show, 1.8 mil
10. Anderson, 1.7 mil

*Average number of viewers this season to date

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