By now, you’ve heard the news that Oprah Winfrey will be ending her daytime talk show in 2011 in order to launch her own cable network with Discovery Communications. NO! IT’S NOT FAIR! I HADN’T GOTTEN A CHANCE TO RECEIVE A FREE PONTIAC FROM HER YET!
Anyway, Oprah’s absence leaves an enormous void in the daytime TV schedule, a void that will periodically get fatter and then get progressively thinner until it decides to get fat again. While Oprah’s ratings had sagged in recent years, she still loomed over the landscape like a colossus. And she still proved able to score big names better than any other host, nabbing Sarah Palin for a guest spot on Monday that drew her show’s best ratings in two years, with 12 million people tuning in.
Is there currently any other daytime TV host that can command that sort of audience? Probably not. Oprah leaves network TV well after cable networks and the web have cannibalized most of the audience. Now that she’s moving to cable herself, collective daytime ratings figure to slip even further, never to recover. But that doesn’t mean daytime TV can’t have a top dog. Whoever ends up reigning supreme in Oprah’s wake will almost certainly not have the same commanding grip over the industry that she had, but the people below won’t be afraid to try and scale as high as she did. Here are the contenders for Oprah’s tiara:
Ellen DeGeneres – 5/1: DeGeneres takes over as a judge on “American Idol” this winter, which will boost her profile immeasurably. Also, like Oprah, DeGeneres’ show provides safe haven for all her celebrity friends to plug their movies and offer astoundingly wrong medical opinions. But DeGeneres has a few issues to deal with. First off, the dancing. It’s terrible. Secondly, DeGeneres severely lacks the same force of energy Winfrey had. Winfrey was a human tornado. DeGeneres is about as noticeable as a light draft. Also, people out in GOOD OLD SMALL TOWN AMURRICA might not cotton to an open lesbian as part of their daytime routine. HOMOPHOBES. Finally, she’s not funny. That has nothing to do with the gay thing, but man is that lady not funny.
Dr. Phil – 3/1: He’s part of the Oprah empire. Make no mistake, though Oprah is leaving daytime herself, she still has plenty of influence over the area, with two shows from her protégés there to fill the void. Dr. Phil’s show has been successful, but there are a handful of things keeping him back. He’s a man. He’s bald. He’s not a doctor. Also, he’s kind of an ass. Dunno if any of those things can be corrected.
Dr. Oz – 12/1: Again like Dr. Phil, he’s one of Oprah’s charges. However, he really IS a doctor. So he has that going for him.
The Doctors – 20/1: And now you’re beginning to get an idea of who is going to take over for Oprah. It’s not going to be just one person assuming her throne. No, daytime TV is now going to be ruled by a collective of doctors: Phil, Oz, and these people. It’s part of the government health care plan. You don’t need insurance, just a working television. After all, why check WebMD for your symptoms when you can watch this show and hope they maybe discuss your condition? At least these doctors show up on schedule. Anyway, I doubt this gang of docs will rise as high as Oprah. None of them have her personality. Also, they’re all know-it-all docs. Screw them.
Bonnie Hunt – 200/1: She’s still on the air? She must know people.
Other – 1/1: Someone without a show will surely step into this morass now that Oprah is out of the picture: Katie Couric, perhaps? Or perhaps Oprah’s mantle will be taken up by the very woman who gave her a ratings bonanza at the end of her run. I’d get ready for The Sarah Palin Show if I were you. At least the books won’t be as challenging this go round.
Drew Magary is a writer for deadspin.com.