Tweaks And Upgrades Pay Off For 'Wendy'
Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams Show may have gotten off to a slow start this season — its rating so far is flat to last year. But since the Christmas holiday, the daytime talk show has picked up a little speed, hitting ratings highs in its target audience.
For the week ending Feb. 10, it posted a 1.0 rating among women 25-54, up 25% over last year and tied in the talk show ranking with Disney-ABC’s Katie and NBCUniversal’s Steve Harvey. A week earlier it tied those two at No. 6 with a 1.1.
So, what's behind the midseason surge?
American Idol may have played a role. It returned to Fox’s schedule on Jan. 16, boosting the network’s primetime rating by 17% over fourth quarter. Wendy airs on the Fox O&Os in major markets.
“We have tweaked the show, but we haven’t messed with it,” says Williams, who is an executive producer on the show with David Perler and her husband-business partner Kevin Hunter.
The chief tweak is the show's opening Hot Topics segment in which Williams gossips about celebrities. "It used to be eight to 12 minutes," she says. "Now, we go 17 to 20 minutes, full, before we even get to our first commercials.”
The longer segment has resulted in Wendy holding on to more viewers, according to Lonnie Burstein, EVP of programming and production at Debmar-Mercury. “That has really made a difference," he says. "We reduced our quarter-hour drop from 11% to about 3% or 4%. That’s huge. Now, we’re flowing that many more viewers from the first to the second quarter hour.”
The New York City-based show now looks like a winner. In September, it moved into a new and bigger studio and began shooting in HD.
Williams says the extra 600 square feet has energized the audience.
“People may not realize what’s drawing them to the show,” she says. “But, now, we have a bigger studio audience. They dress in cheerful colors and people know that when they come to our show they’re ready to ‘Woot Woot,’ have some fun. As the leader of the parade, it’s my job to make it happen.”
Meantime, Wendy also has had behind-the-scenes improvements.
This season, Wendy was upgraded in six markets, including Denver where it moved to Gannett TV’s MNT affiliate KTVD Denver from Channel 3 TV Co.’s independent KCDO. Other station shifts took place in San Francisco, Miami, Kansas City, Fresno, Calif., and Greenville, S.C.
Moreover, “it is now in a different time period from last year, not only in top markets, but in many markets,” says Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming at Katz Television. “If you have a better performance, you get better time periods. And with better time periods, usually, you have a better performance.”
The show's gains come at a good time for distributor Debmar-Mercury, which is in the process of renewing the show with station groups for 2014-15 and beyond. Wendy is a cash-plus-barter show (four national minutes, 10 local).
Wendy airs in 16 of Fox’s 17 markets. The lone Fox O&O that doesn’t have the show is WOGX Gainesville, Fla.
“Since Christmas on our stations, the show is on fire,” says Frank Cicha, SVP of programming at Fox TV Stations.
“Debmar has worked long and hard on this program. They’ve done research on the show and they’ve acted on it. As much as it has retained its energy, it is a much warmer show and it has broader appeal. Wendy herself has become the girlfriend who women want to spend time with after the news.”
“She’s No. 1 or No. 2 in most of our markets,” says Cicha. “We’re very happy with what we’re seeing.”
Wendy may be getting another ratings boost next fall. The show will be paired up on some Fox TV Stations with Warner Bros.’ Bethenny, which is hosted by Bethenny Frankel and executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres. Last summer, Fox tested the show and it improved on its year-ago time slots by 80% with an average 0.9 women 25-54 rating for its six-week test.
“Although they may not have the exact same audience, both shows have young female audiences,” Carroll says. “Any time you pair up shows with similar appeal, the odds are both will be more successful.”
Adds Burstein: “If the show is successful, it will benefit us because it will make the Fox stations stronger. If the Fox stations grow, it is just one more promotional opportunity for us.”