Friday, November 06, 2009

"Dr. Phil" renewed through 2014

Renewed in 70 percent of the country, including CBS-owned WBBM-TV

If Oprah Winfrey decides to hang up her the mic in syndication after 2011, CBS Television Distribution is going to have an insurance policy.

Dr. Phil, the talk show which spun-off from The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002, has been renewed through 2014 in 70 percent of the country, including the core CBS owned-and-operated station group that carries the show.

WBBM, which snatched Dr. Phil away from rival NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in 2005, is a part of the deal, which also includes the Belo, Gannett, LIN, and Media General station groups. Phil currently airs at 3 p.m. weekdays.

Dr. Phil's renewal came just hours after Tribune renewed NBC Universal's Jerry Springer, Maury, and The Steve Wilkos Show on the majority of its stations through 2012, in addition to five Warner Bros. first-run series, including Judge Mathis and The People's Court. It also came on the same day speculation heated up on whether or not Oprah Winfrey's talk show will leave syndication for her new cable network, slated to open in 2011.

As part of the new deal, the license fee structure for Dr. Phil is changing to make it more affordable for stations to keep the talk show on the air. It also affects the current deal stations have with CBS - it has been restructured so stations would actually be paying lower license fees for the show and when the new deal kicks in, those fees go even lower. This is good news for stations, who are cash-strapped and are not seeing as much ad revenue coming in than they have seen in years past due to the recession. In addition, ratings for Dr. Phil declined significantly over the past half-decade and last year in particular.

These issues were sticking points in whether or not CBS could bring back Dr. Phil - not to mention content problems, in which KPRC-TV in Houston cited as one of the reasons the station dropped the show.

But the show's content hasn't affected ad sales, which continue to attract blue-chip clients. By comparison, NBC Universal's just-renewed trio of talk shows has more questionable content issues and weaker advertiser sales, with national spots clogged with direct-response advertising (but all three remain profitable, due to budget cuts made by NBC U - i.e. moving production to Connecticut.)

But at the same time, the new deal with Dr. Phil came when a report surfaced that Oprah Winfrey was leaving her syndicated talk show in 2011 to focus more on her new cable network partnership with Discovery Communications.  A spokesperson for Harpo Productions denied the report, saying no decision has been made on whether or not Ms. Winfrey will continue her talk show in syndication with CBS. But given the source - a very respected Hollywood Insider - Harpo's denial is likely nothing more than spin control.

While Dr. Phil and NBC Universal's trio of trash talkers are sticking around, Broadcasting & Cable's Paige Albiniak pointed out that since 2004 (the year Ricki Lake ended her talk show), ratings for daytime talk have declined 45 percent in households - and even more alarming, down 50 percent in adults 18 to 49. Since Ms. Lake's departure, daytime talk has skewed older - and not helping matters much is the departure of Tyra Banks' talk show from syndication earlier this year to run on The CW. Thanks to the presence of Ricki Lake, daytime talk was aflush with young viewers in the 1990's, with her success spawning clone after clone after endless clone.

Currently, Dr. Phil McGraw's son (Jay McGraw) has his own deal with CBS Television Distribution with sophomore daytime strip The Doctors, and a proposed new strip from his production company (Stage 29 Productions) titled The Lawyers. 

Stage 29 Productions is named, of course, after Stage 29 - the soundstage where Dr. Phil shoots his talk show and where Arsenio Hall did his late-night talk show from 1989 to 1994. Since the CBS-Viacom split in 2006, Dr. Phil and The Doctors are the last two CBS-syndicated shows to be taped at Viacom-owned Paramount Studios, with CBS' Entertainment Tonight and The Insider moving to company-owned CBS Studio Center in Studio City, Calif. last year.

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