SAN DIEGO — Into the world of Oprah, Phil and Geraldo march Bill and Laura--with Ted soon to follow. They go forth to do battle in Talk Show Wars, where success is measured by how many people tune out midday soap operas like the "Young and the Restless."
KGTV-TV (Channel 10) enters the fray today with "InSide San Diego," a one-hour live package of features and interviews to air at 11 a.m. daily. KFMB-TV (Channel 8) is also preparing a talk show, tentatively scheduled to begin in September, with opinionated sportscaster Ted Leitner as host.
The first reaction of many TV viewers will probably be, "Great, just what the world needs, more talk shows."
But these are local talk shows. Channel 8 does "Sun Up San Diego" in the morning, and Channel 10 and KCST-TV (Channel 39) have both done weekend magazine-style shows. But the three major network-affiliated stations have been noticeably absent from the programming battlefield.
Until now, regular local talk shows have been left to public broadcasting, and independent and community access cable channels. Now, the big stations are getting into the act.
Both Channels 51 (an independent station) and 39 (the NBC affiliate) have discussed ideas for producing more local shows, perhaps even talk shows, but neither has announced specific plans.
"The upshot of all this is that San Diego is becoming a much more competitive local market," Channel 8 news director Jim Holtzman said.
Channel 10's show, "InSide San Diego," is basically an extension of its 11:30 a.m. news show. The game show "Hollywood Squares" airing at 11 a.m. has been the lead-in to the news.
"At 11 a.m. we couldn't get arrested," said KGTV program director Don Lundy. "Sixty percent of our audience was people tuning in at 11:30 for the news."
A talk show is a logical extension for a news department. It requires little new equipment, few sets and few new employees.
With the cost of syndicated shows steadily rising, it makes more sense for a station to consider producing its own show. Syndicators have been able to raise the prices charged for game shows and re-runs due to competitive bidding by cable stations and the lack of an alternative--i.e. locally produced shows. At the same time, affiliates have become less enchanted with the quality of the syndicated shows available.
Lundy estimates it will cost $200,000-$300,000 a year for a staff of five, many of them veterans of KGTV's defunct weekend show "Eye on San Diego," to produce "InSide San Diego."
A quality syndicated talk show costs about $5,000 a week--and $8,000-$10,000 a week in the second year, Lundy said.
A station can receive numerous benefits by investing in its own program. Channel 10, for example, can use "InSide San Diego" to tease other shows and to help familiarize the audience with its on-air personalities.
"It is a way to differentiate the station," said Lundy.
A local talk show is also attractive to advertisers looking for a specific audience. And, unlike the weekend shows, the daily talk format can generate daily revenue.
"To me, (a local talk show) has more appeal than (reruns of) 'Green Acres,' " said Stacey Hackett, senior broadcast buyer for Phillips-Ramsey, a local advertising agency that handles such major local accounts as the San Diego Zoo, Del Mar Race Track and San Diego Toyota dealers.
"I think people do like to watch the local stuff," Hackett said. "Some of the clients I am buying for are very much involved in the community. If I am buying for local accounts it makes for a nice mesh."
"InSide San Diego" will inherit an audience composed primarily of women over 35, according to supervising producer Debbie Lechner. However, she said she hopes to expand the audience by emphasizing news and "helpful" features.
"We are going to try hard every day to have the story behind the news headlines," said Lechner. "We won't be programming to stereotypical women."
Both Lundy and Lechner emphasized that "InSide San Diego" is not going to be a "so-called woman's show." In addition to approximately 12 minutes of news updates, the show will include business, restaurant, health and gardening segments.
"But we hope they will be intelligent gardening segments," Lechner said.
Lechner, 33, is a veteran of local talk shows. She worked on several shows in the Boston area, including three years as a producer for the respected "Good Day," produced by the NBC affiliate in Boston. She was also the producer for the last attempt at a local talk show in San Diego, independent KUSI-TV's (Channel 51) "Stanley Tonight."
Hosted by the slightly bizarre Stanley Siegel, "Stanley Tonight" attempted to gather ratings in prime time.
"The problems with 'Stanley Tonight' weren't content-related as much as a problem of the time we were on," Lechner said. "In Boston, we had three strong local morning shows competing and they all did well. I think San Diego is right for a talk show."
Since few people watch TV at 11 a.m. anyway, "InSide San Diego" producers won't feel much pressure to attract high ratings at first. Channel 8's show with Leitner, though, is tentatively scheduled for the 3:30-4:30 p.m. time slot, a lead-in to the station's 4:30 newscast and competition for Oprah Winfrey's show airing at 4 o'clock on Channel 10.
Leitner's show is expected to be a traditional TV talk show, similar to Winfrey's and Phil Donahue's shows, in which studio audiences participate in the interview process.
Channel 8 is banking on Leitner's appeal to carry the show.
"If anything, Ted is born to do a talk show," Holtzman said.
It remains to be seen whether Leitner can out-talk Winfrey, or whether San Diegans can add anymore shows to their daily talk diet.