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P'time divas move into daytime.

A pair of famous femmes have dipped their toes in the daytime pool--but only one seems ready for the plunge.

Fanfare leading up to the debut of "Martha," from newly released jailbird Martha Stewart, seems to have eclipsed any for "The Tyra Banks Show." Both women bowed frosh syndicated hours Sept. 12. Grande dame of domesticity emerged triumphant in her comeback, thanks in large part to the backing of NBC Universal topper Jeff Zucker and reality maestro Mark Burnett.

"Martha" got off to a strong start, averaging a 2.3 household rating/8 share out of 54 markets in its first two airings. Tallies are up 41% in rating and 2 share points from September 2004 time-period averages (slots previously held by since-axed NBC U talker "The Jane Pauley Show").

Most next-day reports deemed Stewart's premiere ratings a success. But others say those results are only so-so.

Stewart, after all, is at the center of a carefully orchestrated marketing blitz, one that unofficially began with her headline trial and well before she enrolled in Camp Cupcake last October. Since then, her team--Burnett, Zucker, Donald Trump and Stewart's new CEO Susan Lyne among them--has steadily worked to a new and improved Stewart.

"Martha is fighting against an image," says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV. "My guess is the real Martha is somewhere in between Cybill Shepherd's portrayal" and the persona concocted by NBC U. "Once her producers allow that to come through, they'll be fine."

The Stewart who can roll with the punches was made the center of a series of commercials promoting the show. One featured her getting run over by a cow. Another showed her accidentally breaking a blown-glass vase then asking the glass-blower "Is that bad?"

Stewart had a primo lead-in--often what makes or breaks a new syndie show. In most markets, "Martha" followed either "Today" or "The Ellen De-Generes Show."

But platform or not, Carroll says her numbers are a good thing.

"'Ellen,' which is considered a success, did a 1.5/4 in Los Angeles last September. So far, 'Martha' is doing a 1.6/4 in that market," Carroll says. "That's slightly better than 'Ellen.' Sustainability will be key, once the curiosity factor dies down."

Stewart has a built-in fan base--many of whom feel she was persecuted--that has been waiting for her return.

Model newcomer

Reputedly nicer newcomer Banks fared less well.

"Tyra Banks" lagged in its debut, losing 24% of its lead-in and coming up short from year-ago figures.

Despite robust ratings and reviews for her UPN skein "America's Next Top Model," which she hosts and exec produces, it seems Banks will have to prove she has the chops to win 18- to 34-year-olds when not surrounded by cat-fighting and competish.

"Tyra Banks" lacks help from a solid schedule, following a ragtag group of shows that range from "Montel" to "People's Court." Skein averaged a 0.9/6 in the top seven markets for its first two showings--"an OK number," says Carroll.

"She has a more daunting task," he adds. "Tyra is going after the 18- to 34-year-old women Ricki Lake did, not that she'll do the same type of show, but that's the direction she's going in."

One studio exec says that is precisely Banks' problem: "Ricki did something specific. She went after the sensational or tear-jerker stories of real people. With Tyra, you're not quite sure she's found her voice yet. She's certainly focused on being aspirational, but that doesn't mean she has a personality, or a strong vision for her show."

Despite household woes, Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution's "Tyra Banks" is up 125% in women 18-34 over the time period a year ago.

Jim Paratore, prexy of Telepictures Prods. and exec VP of WBDTD, says he's been impressed by Banks from day one, but "that said, (her voice) is still something she's figuring out. But she's learning and getting better every day."

"I think the goal is to cover a full range of topics that women deal with. Clearly she has expertise in areas related to fashion and style, but she's interested in a variety of things, just like the women we're targeting."

Both shows should get some help this fall from their primetime counterparts: Stewart's "The Apprentice" and Banks' "Top Model."
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Title Annotation:TELEVISION; "Martha" and "The Tyra Banks Show"
Author:Martin, Denise
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 19, 2005
Words:718
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