Vacuum left by Oprah, soaps, opens doors for new impressions

Analysts contend the end of Oprah's talk show and decline of soap operas provides the chance for networks, brands, and PR professionals to redefine daytime TV programming.

Much has been written about the future of daytime TV post-Oprah and the decline of soap operas, but analysts contend the newly opened space provides the chance for networks, brands, and PR professionals to redefine programming.

Doug Spong, president of Carmichael Lynch Spong, thinks the upcoming fall season presents opportunities for fresh format shifts and for different spokespeople to emerge.

He says a new talk show could emerge as a “Today Show Light,” in that it would incorporate filming outside the studio, at a client's factory, for instance, or in another city, but have no weather or news reports.

“Oprah didn't do a lot of remote programming: She was very dependent on the studio audience,” says Spong.

Another difference could be a deviation from showcasing A-list celebrities and experts, which were a mainstay of Oprah, adds Spong, and that would open up the arena to new TV personalities.

Oprah Winfrey said good-bye to her CBS studio audience on May 25 after a quarter century on the air to make time for other projects, including her cable network, OWN, which launched last year.

Today Show veteran Katie Couric may be grabbing some of Oprah's audience: According to industry sources, Couric is in talks for a daytime talk show on ABC this fall. Couric recently wrapped up nearly five years as the anchor of the CBS Evening News.  

Shortly before Oprah's last signoff, ABC announced that it was shutting down two of its long-running soap operas, All My Children and One Life to Live, and replacing them with informational shows The Chew and The Revolution, which deals with food and with health and lifestyle respectively. Rumors abound also that a third ABC soap, General Hospital, will be axed, and its time slot taken over, reportedly, by the Couric talk show.

Other names being bandied about for daytime slots are actress and former talk-show host Ricki Lake, reality star Bethenny Frankel, and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.

Should any new hosts capture even a bit of the Oprah magic, landing a client on that show is a major coup for any PR professional. But finding that magic is easier said than done, according to Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. 

“The road to a successful talk show is littered with carnage,” adds Thompson. “We've had a lot of talented people do daytime talk shows, and they haven't worked.”

Lisa Rosenberg, president, Euro RSCG PR North America, agrees with Spong that freed-up daytime TV airspace poses fresh options.

She says it also solves another dilemma. One of the problems dealing with a show of the magnitude and influence of Oprah's, she explains, is that “you had many clients who would want to ride the Oprah wave, even though their customers didn't watch the show. It was a pinnacle type of place to be.”

She adds daytime programming may now embrace social media—to connect to viewers and create a dialog in much the way that American Idol has done from the beginning, first with call-ins, now with social media.

Thompson sees the change in line-up as expected due to the country's shifting demographics. The daytime TV audience is no longer “monolithic” the way it used to be, he adds: When soap operas began in the 50s, the bulk of the audience was stay-at-home moms, he says, and Oprah, who came much later, pulled in many of those viewers.

Today, the daytime viewers are still women with children, he adds, but also the group includes those who work the night shift, the unemployed, and students. His guess is that networks will largely zero in on the female audience, but notes that there could be room to appeal to the other groups.

Undoubtedly, there will be hits and flops as media executives order up more talk and game shows and fewer soaps and strive to figure out what works. But while the daytime TV lineup is congealing, there are boundless opportunities for PR professionals to be part of the solution.

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