Shocker: Geraldo returns with a thud
Syndie show barely tops axed 'Current Affair'
November 1, 2005
Bringing Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera back to syndication after a seven-year absence sounded like a fairly decent idea, but ratings for the Monday premiere of Twentieth Television’s Geraldo at Large suggest it wasn’t such a great idea after all.
Geraldo” pulled a 2.6 household rating in its first day in the 32 markets where it airs, barely improving on the 2.4 rating the timeslots averaged last month. Moreover, Geraldo only slightly bettered A Current Affair in the 28 markets where it replaced that show, averaging a 2.9 compared to the 2.6 rating that A Current Affair generated in October.
That’s not a good sign. Twentieth canceled A Current Affair due to dismal ratings, replacing it with Geraldo two months before it was to go national.
Geraldo typically airs either before or after local news, mostly on Fox owned and operated stations, and it’s labeled a newsmagazine. But the features tend to run to the tawdry, very much in the manner of Rivera’s earlier syndicated show, and it’s gotten largely terrible reviews.
More ominous for Geraldo, its first-day rating was 40 percent lower than programs averaged in the same timeslots last year, at least according to some estimates. Twentieth says when factoring out baseball and breaking news stories, Geraldo’s 2.6 rating is up from the time slot average of 2.4 in 2004.
“Geraldo” may be suffering from several problems, beyond the host’s predilection for sleazy topics. One could well be the slew of news shows and outlets it must compete against that did not exist a decade ago.
Viewers are now being overloaded with news programs, local and national, as well as news on the internet, observes Brad Adgate, senior vice president and corporate research director at Horizon Media, and he surmises that’s what’s behind Geraldo’s low ratings.
With the ubiquity of news it’s not surprising that one more entry is not competing with ˜Wheel of Fortune’ as the top-rated show in syndication, he says. Ratings for evening news broadcasts have been steadily declining. CNN’s ratings aren’t what they were 10 years ago because of competition. And young folks are increasingly getting their news online, not on TV.
That’s not to say “Geraldo” is necessarily headed in the direction of “Current Affair. Syndicated shows sometimes improve with timeslot upgrades and additional station pickups.
Still, the odds are against it. Few shows that begin with weak numbers revive themselves and go on to become hits. More often it’s the case, as with NBC Universal’s short-lived Jane Pauley last year, that they start weak and continue to struggle.
Geraldo’s initial performance is a disappointment mostly because the show has a few strengths working in its favor. Key among these is Geraldo Rivera’s name recognition.
Rivera got his start in the 1970s working for ABC’s New York affiliate, where he famously exposed horrific conditions in schools for the mentally ill. From there, he picked up gigs at ABC’s Good Morning America and the network’s primetime newsmagazine 20/20. He also manned primetime specials, at one point infamously blowing open Al Capone’s empty vault, for instance, before going on to host the raucous syndicated talk show Geraldo Rivera from 1987 to 1998.
Most recently, he has been uncharacteristically quiet, outside of a much-publicized demand that The New York Times retract a story about his on-camera attempts to help Hurricane Katrina victims as a host on Fox News.
But the concept of Geraldo at Large also makes sense, at least on paper, offering a seamless transition into a station’s local news, the cash cow for most affiliates.
Terri McKinzie, assistant media director at Starcom Worldwide, is optimistic the show will succeed, primarily because it represents a new genre in syndication, news, that could reach an audience that is disappearing from network TV.
The network evening news is definitely struggling, and the audience continues to get older, she says. And good for them that they are bringing in another [type] of program and not giving up on the daypart.
A news format in syndication, however, is largely untested outside tabloid programs.
“He started out doing hard news in New York, but I don’t know that many people remember that, says Adgate. And news [today] is really on-demand. Television news is appointment viewing, which may have worked a generation ago, but certainly not today.
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