As 'Oprah' folds up weekday shop, stations ponder what's next


Weekday television is about to experience a major sea change.

After 25 years as a powerful mainstay of syndication, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" airs its last original broadcast Wednesday, May 25 ... the last day of the ratings-important May sweeps, indicating that Winfrey still has in mind the stations that have supported her. In the short term, anyway.

The episode is certain to draw a huge audience, to the degree that the highest fee ever for a 30-second commercial in a regularly scheduled daytime program -- $1 million -- is being charged to national advertisers who buy time in that hour.

Will morning or afternoon television ever see another series command such a price? It's unlikely, but others are ready to stake any claim they can to Winfrey's following.

On the immediate horizon is CNN's Anderson Cooper, who launches a syndicated weekday show this fall. Dr. Drew Pinsky, who recently joined the nighttime HLN lineup, also is getting into the daytime race; "Dr. Drew's Lifechangers" will have an already established network of stations as an afternoon offering on The CW.

Other rivals may yet be coming. Katie Couric is leaving the "CBS Evening News" anchor desk. Bountiful speculation has her developing a syndicated talk show (possibly with her former co-anchor and producer from NBC's "Today," Matt Lauer and Jeff Zucker, if one buys into all the rumors), and while that wasn't definite at press time, it appeared to be a strong possibility.

Also, Ricki Lake is plotting a fall 2012 return to daytime talk. It doesn't come as a surprise to author and Role Mommy president Beth Feldman, a publicist on Lake's 1993-2004 show. She reasons that Lake "is coming back just in time. Hopefully, the fans who grew up with her -- who are now moms, too -- will be ready to give a roaring 'woot, woot' to Ricki."

Such ongoing daytime hosts as Ellen DeGeneres and Dr. Mehmet Oz are destined for new time slots in certain markets, while some soon-to-be-former "Oprah" clients plan to use the hour to expand their local presences with added newscasts.

However it all shakes out, Winfrey's absence will be felt. Soon. Bank on it.

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