WLS-TV to replace "Oprah" with live, local morning show

In news first reported Tuesday morning on Robert Feder’s blog at Vocalo, ABC-owned WLS-TV has announced plans to replace The Oprah Winfrey Show, which departs first-run syndication on September 9, 2011: The station is developing a live, local morning show to take her place. There is no word yet on a host or format, but it is expected to be targeted to women 25-54.

The program has a working title of Morning Rush, and the show would air live weekdays at 9 a.m. in front of a studio audience, starting on September 12, 2011 in a time slot Ms. Winfrey has dominated for a little over 25 years.

The new show would be a throwback of sorts – in the 1970s and 1980s, many local stations produced daily talk shows – some airing live in front of a studio audience. For example, then ABC-owned WXYZ-TV in Detroit had the long-running morning talk show Kelly & Company, while the five Group W stations produced plenty of daily, local programming. This came at a time when their were few first-run programs in syndication outside of prime access and local stations (who didn’t have nationally syndicated talk shows featuring Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, or Dinah Shore) had only two choices- air off-network reruns or air locally produced programming.

Many talkers, like Ms. Winfrey, Phil Donahue, Regis Phillbin & Kathie Lee Gifford, and Morton Downey Jr. all got their start hosting local shows before they went into national syndication (only Downey didn’t succeed.) In fact, Ms. Winfrey became host of WLS’ locally-produced A.M. Chicago in early 1984, which evolved into The Oprah Winfrey Show. It started beating Donahue on CBS’ WBBM-TV and the rest is history.

In the interview with Mr. Feder, WLS-TV General Manger Emily Barr stated she wasn’t looking to launch the next Oprah Winfrey Show: “I think we want to go in a completely different direction. We want to do something that feels lighter rather than heavier, fun without being too silly, smart without feeling too sophisticated. If we can do all of that, and get the right hosts and make it both predictable and unpredictable, then I think people will try us out.”

Instead of airing a program from ABC’s Live Well HD subchannel network (which Ms. Barr also manages) or going the vertical integration route by poaching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire or Regis & Kelly from Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution (who like WLS, is also owned by The Walt Disney Co.), the station decided to develop a local show and keep all the potential ad revenue earned from the program, instead of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to a syndicator, and giving up some barter time on top of it.

So far, this marks the second ABC-owned station to announce its post-Oprah plans. A few weeks ago, KABC-TV in Los Angeles announced its was replacing Oprah at 3 p.m. with The Dr. Oz Show in 2011. Oz, who has appeared on Oprah a few times, currently airs at 5 p.m. on Fox-owned KTTV in Los Angeles.

Sony could have convinced WLS to buy Dr. Oz to replace Oprah at 9 a.m., but opted to renew with WFLD-TV instead. The sale of Oz to KABC put the kibosh on any notion of an ABC group deal to replace Oprah on seven of its ten O&Os.

Meanwhile, other major ABC O&Os including WABC-TV in New York and WPVI in Philadelphia have yet to announce their post-Oprah plans, where she airs at 4 p.m., but sources say a local news expansion into those time periods is likely.