January 24, 2006

Oprah, Ray cook up a daytime TV contender

By Kimberly Speight

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - With new hits few and
far between in daytime TV during the past few years, those who
aspire to be the next Oprah Winfrey face increasingly long
odds, even if they are already well known to viewers.

In the fall, King World Prods. and Winfrey's Harpo Prods.
are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time
in four years by launching a high-profile show with the
assistance of what might be called the Oprah Seal of Approval.

Rachael Ray, the perky food maven who has in a short time
built her own culinary-themed cottage industry thanks to her
popular Food Network series and frequent appearances on "The
Oprah Winfrey Show," is the latest to get the Winfrey push that
worked so well for another former "Oprah Winfrey" regular, Dr.
Phil McGraw. The launch of McGraw's "Dr. Phil" show in 2002
posted the highest ratings for a talk show debut since Winfrey
herself went national in 1986 and has remained the No. 2 talker
behind "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

In the same way McGraw's appearances increased just ahead
of his show's launch, Ray also is boosting her visibility on
"Oprah Winfrey" as Winfrey helps develop Ray as a personality
poised to host her own daytime show, "Rachael Ray," which is
just one of many being shopped this week at the television
business' annual NATPE convention in Las Vegas.

So what advice has Winfrey offered Ray?

"She said the first rule is to be myself," Ray says.

And that means having a good time and making sure the
viewers do too, Ray says. She adds that she wants the show to
be a reflection of herself, and that means no tears -- either
happy or sad -- because she is not a crier.

"I want the show to be fun -- a lot of laughter," she says.
"I'm not interested in chit-chatting with experts or talking
about anything serious, and I don't want any crying because
that's not me. I want to stay true to myself."

Since 1999, shows that tried for daytime glory and failed
have included "Iyanla," "The Ananda Lewis Show," "The Jane
Pauley Show," "The Larry Elder Show," "Pat Croce: Moving In"
and "The Queen Latifah Show."

Barry Wallach, president of "Jane Pauley" distributor NBC
Universal Domestic Television Distribution, says it's never
been easy to get a new talk show off the ground.

"(If) you have the right host and executive producer, it's
a great business," he says. "If you have the wrong talent,
format and executive producer, it's not a good thing. ... The
statistics are one out of 10 -- it's no different than
primetime or cable. It's a business of finding that one out of
10 that works. The odds aren't any better."

This year, NBC Universal is launching "The Megan Mullally
Show," hosted by the Emmy-winning "Will & Grace" star.

King World CEO Roger King says spinning off a talk show
from the "Oprah" stable "takes some of the gamble" out of the

"Oprah" and "Dr. Phil" are still at the top of the pack.
For the current season through January 1, "Oprah" is averaging
a 7.3 household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research,
while "Dr. Phil" stands at a 5.2. By comparison, the No. 3
talker, Disney's "Live With Regis & Kelly," is averaging a 3.5,
while Warner Bros.' "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," which has been
seeing year-to-year growth, is posting a 2.3 average.

But the Winfrey involvement is certainly building some buzz
around "Ray." Consulting firm Katz Television Group recently
named the show -- which already has been cleared in more than
85% of the country for its fall launch -- as one of its
recommended buys for broadcast stations based on Winfrey's

"Our choice is not driven by a clear and concise execution
of a version of the daily hour but rather is based on the
program's pedigree, Oprah Winfrey's endorsement and the
involvement of the 'Dr. Phil' creators, under the direction of
Terry Wood," says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming
at Katz.

Wood, president of creative affairs and development at King
World and CBS Paramount Domestic Television, also sees the
benefits of having a Winfrey-backed show but believes that
"Ray" stands on its own merits -- with or without the
involvement of Winfrey or her Harpo Prods. -- simply because of
the host herself. (King World is producing "Ray" in association
with Harpo, Scripps Networks and Watch Entertainment.)

Ray already has a fan base built up through her hosting
duties on the Food Network shows "30-Minute Meals," "$40 a
Day," "Inside Dish" and "Tasty Travels." She also is the
best-selling author of several cookbooks, and her monthly
magazine, "Every Day With Rachael Ray," debuted in November.

Ray got her own start at Macy's Marketplace in New York and
would go on to manage pubs and restaurants at the Sagamore
Resort in upstate New York and work as a food buyer for the
gourmet market Cowan & Lobal. Looking to increase sales during
the holidays, she began a series of cooking classes that drew
the attention of WRGB-TV in Albany, N.Y., which recruited Ray
to do a weekly segment, "30-Minute Meals," for the evening
news. In late 2001, Food Network picked up "30-Minute Meals" as
a series.

King World/CBS' Wood expects viewers to learn a great deal
from Ray -- not just about food but about practical solutions
to everyday problems, calling the daytime show a "can-do show
the Rachael Ray way." While topics related to food will be part
of the show, "the categories covered will be wide open," Wood

"We'll touch on every aspect of life," Wood adds. "I expect
her to go out there and share information, and there will be a
great takeaway (for viewers). It will be all about problem
solving and learning things through Rachael's eyes."

As examples of those everyday problems, Ray rattles off
such dilemmas as changing tires or hiding clutter when
receiving visitors into one's home. Celebrity guests also will
stop by from time to time -- "not to plug something," Ray says,
but to offer their own tips to some everyday problems and as a
result "show us that they are more like us." The New York-based
show also will be topical at times, Ray adds, but in a "fun,
lighthearted way."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter