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Oprah, Rachael Ray plan a daytime blitz

TV cooking's perky face gets Winfrey-approved push into the spotlight
/ Source: 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.”

Tough timeslotSince 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 process.

“Oprah” and “Dr. Phil” are still at the top of the pack. For the current season through Jan. 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 participation.

“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.

Homespun approachRay 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 says.

“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.”