Daytime talk on TV is dead! Well, maybe not dead, but it is going the way of westerns, game shows and teenage bandstands. Littered across the daytime talk landscape are the has-beens and colossal failures from the past. This scene is full of graveyard greats like Ricki Lake, Jeff Probst, Anderson Cooper, Wayne Brady, Martin Short and many others who folded up shop in recent years. But there's one talent that's signaled it may be time to call in the priest for last rights: Katie Couric.
Couric's tenure has been rocky at best since she left the TODAY Show in 2006. She commanded the CBS Evening News to new lows, and today has a talk show that is hemorrhaging expenses. Executives are wondering if they are throwing good money after bad for another year?
Whether she stays or goes, one thing is certain: it's not entirely Katie's fault that ratings haven't taken off. Unless, of course, you believe recent reports that say she's unwilling to do the kinds of topics that the audiences of Maury and Jerry demand. Maybe that's why the Povich and Springer circus acts still thrive? They continue to be brilliant examples of the vast television wasteland that continues to thrive in an arena where the lowest I.Q. scores dominate the industry.
Three major changes to the TV game have made daytime talk shows much less effective then they used to be. The first is cost. With the proliferation of cheap reality programming that's flooded the market, talk, as they say, ain't cheap. The cost of a full studio set complete with a live audience is expensive to produce. In fact, Katie's program, according to one source, had an annual budget of $50 million with 40 percent of that going to Couric herself. Granted, according to the same story, that budget has been reduced to $35 million. Other talk shows, however, cost a little more than half of that.
The second reason is television options. People have a lot more choices than they did in the Geraldo, Phil and Rosie days and so do programmers. Now, with so many cable channels, I question whether or not a big studio show can compete financially with cheap "reality" junk?
I remember the days, when I was a local news director, where I used to have to fight for news time. Now, it's the other way around. These syndicated shows are often battling against news because it's more profitable for local stations to run news programming than air talk fests. In fact, many major market stations have started doing news at 4pm.
Perhaps most important is content. It doesn't matter who is hosting the show. They could be replaced with some other famous celebrity. The product that is being produced by these shows is forgetful at best, and forgetful doesn't generate enough buzz for someone to want to watch the show live or even DVR it. You can still remember the more memorable Oprah shows. Can you do it with any others?
So, how do we throw a lifeline to these shows that are hanging on to a dying format? First off, they have to be produced cheaper. You still need a big name to bring in ratings, but it needs to be an A-lister who isn't afraid to get creative with the content. What will go viral? Why should people tune in or DVR your program? What are you bringing to the conversation that can't be missed? Too often producers think about direct competition: Maury and The Doctors are my direct competition so let's focus on winning against them. That's a good start, but in an era with unlimited choices, you're really competing against the world. Some of the late night shows have figured this out by producing content that gets people talking. When is the last time something on Katie got people talking? Well, other than her possible departure?
If television is truly a cyclical business, as was stated years ago by those much smarter than I, then it is just about time to pronounce daytime talk DOA. Yes, a few shows will survive serving the lowest common denominator, but how does television talk compete with the eventual reruns of Duck Dynasty and other socially uplifting and educating programs? Perhaps it is time to bring-back Larry King and Regis? No, it is time leave talk shows where they belong: the radio.