Martha Stewart is pulling an Oprah Winfrey - only difference is she's leaving a year earlier.
In news that caught NBC Universal off guard, Martha Stewart Living Enterprises announced The Martha Stewart Show is moving from first-run syndication after five years to cable's Hallmark Channel, this coming September. The daily one-hour strip will be a part of a block of Martha Stewart-related programming on the channel, which will run from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m Central Time, which kicks off with The Martha Stewart Show, which began on September 12, 2005.
The deal is part of a overall deal which lets Ms. Stewart develop programming for the network, which would include prime-time specials.
According to executives at the cable network, Hallmark - originally known and Faith & Values Channel, and later Odyssey, is a good match for the older- female skewing cable network.
Ratings for Martha however, hasn't been "a good thing" - the program has finished last among all syndicated talk shows for the last few seasons, and fared poorly in the target women 25-54 demographic, which means stations (at least outside of the NBC-owned ones) who carry her show won't likely be shedding any tears over her departure.
Still, the loss of a recognizable name like Martha Stewart is another blow to the first-run syndication business from a prestige and advertiser standpoint, which is still reeling from the announced departure of Oprah Winfrey's talk show from syndication next year.
Ms. Stewart's talk show was unusual from a barter sales standpoint - even though NBC Universal Television Distribution handled sales of the show, national advertising (sold for cash/barter) was handled by Martha Stewart Living Enterprises. It is not known if the firm will handle advertising for her upcoming cable programming on Hallmark.
As for the eight NBC-owned stations who carried Martha (including WMAQ-TV locally), it is yet another hour the major station group has to fill this fall.While the NBC-owned stations has picked up Real Housewives reruns from sister cable network Bravo, it still leaves one, possibly two hours to replace since The Bonnie Hunt Show was canceled in December, and Deal or No Deal's future is still up in the air (keep in mind the situation does vary market to market, as WVIT in Hartford, Conn. does not air Martha and WRC in Washington, D.C. does not air Martha or Deal.)
NBC could turn to in-house programming to spread out among its stations as a solution. One possibility is LX.TV, which runs as a 5 p.m. strip on WNBC in New York, while another may be The Daily Connection, which runs weekdays at 3 p.m. on WRC. However, neither show is a ratings winner thus far - especially LX.TV at WNBC, which often lags behind newscasts and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader on WPIX.
And other first-run game, court, and talk shows could be in consideration for those open slots. And of course, there's always the ever-reliable expansion of local news.
Martha Stewart's final syndicated show is scheduled to air September 10.