'I've always wanted to do a show with women with very different views," Barbara Walters tells us in a mock conspiratorial voice before the opening credits roll up on The View. "Be careful what you wish for."
Now in its second season, ABC's The View breathes new life into the copycat genre of daytime talk and has snagged a loyal following of women viewers. Irreverent but intelligent, the show is a free-wheeling mix of unscripted banter, celebrity interviews, and serious discussion of timely issues, served up by 20/20 veteran Walters and four generationally diverse hosts. Now, as the show's ratings continue to climb, some formerly skepticalnetwork affliliates are beginning to believe that ABC has a real winner in the 1 1:00 a.m. time slot, a daypart in which the network has suffered as also-ran for the past decade.
During a November show that aired on Friday the 13th, 23-year-old Debbie Matenopoulos revealed that she the ill-fated day was her birthday, eliciting a story from Joy Behar, a fiftysomething standup comedian and single mother, about a woman who put white shoes beneath her bed to increase her fertility. The alchemy of talk included a discussion of status, and the gals-gathered around a kitchen table, coffee cups in hand-explored the merits of one- versus two-door minivans. "That's just so stupid!" Behar exclaimed when Meredith Vieira, 44, the former 60 Minutes correspondent and mother of three, explained how trading in her two-door for a one-door minivan would bring her down a notch on her neighbors' status scale. Star Jones, the 36-year-old African American lawyer-turned-media celebrity, chimed in, reveling in her ultimate status coup: having Gucci on the speed-dial of her new Motorola cell phone.
A talk fest that gives viewers that "you are there, hanging around with your best friends" feeling, The View showcases intelligent women talking serious, talking silly, and talking just a wee bit of trash, but always talking smart. And ABC is loving it. In its daytime slot, season-to-date, the show is up 19 percent for women ages 25 to 54 and its ratings increase an average of 10 percent from those of the show preceding it. Now The View is ranked second only to The Rosie O'Donnell Show for the 25-to-54 demo in the 9:00 a.m.-to-12:00 p.m. time period. Those numbers, and the industry buzz about the show, have some local affiliates eager to rejuggle their schedules to synch with the network's live feed of The View. This should also put syndicators on their toes, now that there's a new network contender to reckon with.
"The 11:00 a.m. time slot has been notoriously difficult for ABC," says Valerie Schaer, vice president of production for reality programming at ABC Daytime. The network launched The Home Show in 1988, and it did well, according to Schaer, until the proliferation of daytime talk shows cut into its ratings. ABC then struck out with Mike & Maty: Real Friends in 1994, and again with Caryl & Marilyn in 1996.
The time slot hasn't been easy for NBC, either. Both nets have had to go up against CBS' three-decade run of The Price is Right, which skews older but garners ratings twice as high as anything offered by the competition. Schaer, however, believes that ABC's losing streak is over: "The View is a home run for us."
In large urban centers, The View is giving the other nets and strong syndicated programming a run for their money, and rates number one in the 25-to-54 demo in the six largest markets where it's airing in its daytime slot: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Dallas-Ft. Worth (see chart below).
And advertisers are shelling out for the younger demo. In New York City, the average price for a 30-second spot is $2,754, which is almost three times the rate for The View's older-skewing competition, The Price is Right, according to Competitive Media Reporting. The rates are also 15 percent higher than for Rosie O'Donnell, the show's better-rated lead-in. On average, The View's rates are 45 percent higher than its closest 11 a.m. competitors.
Nationally, however, the ratings tell a different story. The show pulled in a 1.9 household rating in October, just a tenth of a point above its rating for the same month in 1997. And while the 18-to-49 demo has increased by 9 percent season-to-date, that's only a tenth of a point up from its 1.1 premiere rating.
Part of the reason The View's local numbers are so much better than its national numbers is that, although the show is carried on 186 stations, covering 96 percent of the country, only three-quarters of those markets air it during the day. National ratings are based on all time periods, including late-night, a time slot that drags down the overall numbers. In Buffalo, for instance, where The View is shown at 2:00 a.m., ABC-affiliate WKBW took back the daypart in 1994 after The Home Show was pulled. Currently the station is running the syndicated Donny & Marie Show in the 11:00 a.m. time slot.
"We have contractual commitments to syndicators and we didn't feel it was worth it to break our agreements to put on [The View] in daytime," says WKBW program director John DiSciullo. "Historically, the network has never delivered a good 11 a.m. show. When they come up with shows like Caryl & Marilyn, your level of confidence erodes a touch."
DiSciullo says that, from a programming standpoint, airing The View at 11:00 a.m. makes sense because the show appeals to women ages 25 to 54-the demo that the affiliate promises to deliver to advertisers. But from an economic standpoint, he says, local and syndicated programs are more profitable to the station because of the greater share of local commercial time allowed.
Cindy Velasquez, general manager for ABC-affiliate KMGH in Denver, also runs The View late night, but that's changing: "I've just made an agreement to run it daytime in 1999," she says. "I think it's a good show. I like the content."
And while ABC has been touting the show's popularity with younger audiences, the national demo that has actually brought the overall household rating up is 55-plus. The older demo has shown a 24 percent increase season-to-date, from a 1.7 to a 2.1.
"Television usage is down overall for that time period," says Audrey Steele, a media buyer with Zenith Media, "But usage for 55-plus is up 6 percent." So it doesn't appear that The View is stealing that demo from another show, but that there are simply more older women out there watching. "Those women are just available to view, period," says DiSciullo.
Of course, it's not as if the network doesn't know that women 55-plus make up a third of the The View's audience. It just doesn't care much, media buyers say. "Eighteen-to-49 is the holy grail in terms of targeting for ABC," says Steele. Another media buyer adds, "ABC has a history of never focusing on older demos. They discount their buying power. The amount of advertising dollars targeting the 55-plus group is not significant."
If ABC hopes to keep growing the numbers of its younger demos, it will need to get the show cleared for more daytime slots, media buyers say. Still, convincing affiliates to take on a network show when they can make more with syndication may be a hard sell. One syndicator at a major distribution house believes the only reason the show has stayed on as long as it has is because of Barbara Walters. "If The View were a syndicated show, it would be struggling to stay on the air," he says, "but because it's network and because of Barbara Walters, they're not going to touch it. With the kind of promotion that show gets, one-tenth of a rating point increase is no growth."