In the last May sweeps, the most important recent ratings period to date, “Ellen” did finish No. 1 in the key demographic of viewers 25 to 54, with 20,900 viewers versus WJZ’s second-place total of 16,800. Those are numbers that will translate directly to dollars, as most TV ad sales are made on just such demographics.
But if Couric and her executive producer, former NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker, are going to find viewers anywhere in the Baltimore market, it would look as if those upscale homeowning women watching “Ellen” are the most likely candidates. Although some of WJZ’s news viewers might also be induced to switch if Couric’s show is as off-the-news as she promises.
“I think there's an opportunity for a deeper conversation about a lot of things that happen in the news, and I think this show will provide an outlet for that,” she told me last week in an interview at WMAR.
“Who knows [how ‘Katie’ will do]?” Joerres says. “She has a great executive producer, so you would think there’s a good plan [for the show]. … I think we’re seeing that people are still trying to find their Oprah replacement. You know, whether it’s Dr. Oz or the Ellens of the world or Dr. Phil or any of those people. Who satisfies their need and fills that void?”
Bill Hooper, general manager at WMAR, agrees that the void exists, but he thinks his host is the one to fill it, not Ellen.
“The biggest opportunity for Katie is that since Oprah has left the airwaves, no one has filled that void for a smart, informative women’s TV kind of show,” says Hooper.
“There’s nothing wrong with ‘Ellen’ or the other 4 o’clock shows, but no one has really come up with that same kind of [Oprah] formula,” he adds.
“Not that we think Katie’s going to be Oprah. I don’t think you’ll ever see another Oprah again. But we do think, No. 1, there’s a void there. And No. 2, she just has such huge name recognition and she was so popular on the ‘Today’ show, that if she comes back in that fun fashion and that personality shows through, which she wasn’t able to do on the ‘CBS Evening News,’ she could be successful leading right into the news for us.”
Viewers benefit when the competition reaches this level and performers like Couric join the fray.
But in the end, the larger cultural story might be that void Oprah left behind — and the fact that the TV industry still has not found a way to give viewers what she did.