FCC’s equal-time rules takes show out of New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh markets
[Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 8 p.m.]
The future of Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz is in serious question after the host of said show announced Tuesday he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
Mehmet Oz – who is a cardiac surgeon and a registered Republican, made the announcement the conservative newspaper The Washington Examiner, running for the Republican nomination for the seat now held by retiring Republican Pat Toomey. In the op-ed column, Oz slammed the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, notably hitting those lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. Oz also released a campaign video on social media, hitting on the same themes.
Even though he’s a longtime New Jersey resident (his show tapes across the Hudson River in New York), he casted an absentee vote in suburban Philadelphia using an in-law’s address. Oz has only lived in Pennsylvania a year, as he hopes an endorsement from former President Donald Trump can boost his campaign.
Trump appeared on Dr. Oz as a candidate in 2016.
Syndicated television personalities flirting with a political run isn’t new – both Jerry Springer (a former Cincinnati mayor and city councilman) and Greg Mathis (of Judge Greg Mathis) each considered runs for office before backing out. A few years ago, former WGN-AM and current WCPT-AM host Patti Vasquez unsuccessfully ran for a state Senate seat.
While many were taken surprise by the news, probably no one was more surprised than Sony, who syndicated his talk show for the last twelve seasons as the studio seemed to be blindsided by the news (Sony has yet to make a formal statement.) Oz launched in 2009 by Sony and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, who signed a talk show production deal with him after his appearances on her show in the late 2000s. The show was one of the top freshman syndicated programs of the 2009-10 season and produced strong ratings in its first few years.
But in June 2014, Oz was taken down in a brilliant monologue by HBO host John Oliver, who blasted the doctor for promoting a weight-loss drug whose benefits turned out not to be. Oz testified in front of the Senate to defend those claims (there’s no doubt his Democratic opponents would use this as fodder against his campaign.) Oz has also been criticized for touting the benefits of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. Ratings for Oz fell, but Sony renewed the show anyway despite being downgraded over the years as daytime numbers in general have slid. In Chicago, the 1 p.m. slot Dr. Oz held last season is now occupied by Nick Cannon’s new talk show on Fox-owned WFLD and moved an hour earlier to lower-rated sister station WPWR/My50.
For the week ending November 14 – the latest numbers available, Dr. Oz finished in a three-way tie for eighth place among all talk shows with a 0.6 household rating, unchanged from the previous week.
The future of Dr. Oz is obviously in question as if his show were to continue, he would run afoul of the FCC’s equal-time rules in Pennsylvania as the absence of key markets Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would have an impact on the show’s already low national ratings, which could trigger make goods from national advertisers. Curiously, Dr. Oz is now scrubbed from SPT’s website, as he turned the show page into one for his campaign.
NBC affiliate WGAL in Harrisburg, Pa., Fox-owned WTXF Philadelphia, and Sinclair’s WPGH in Pittsburgh announced they have stopped carrying the show. Even Fox-owned WNYW, whose New York City market has a “Grade B” signal overlap with Philadelphia, has also dropped the show as has Nexstar’s WJW-TV in Cleveland. In all, around twelve markets are affected.
Oz’s deal with Sony runs through the 2022-23 season, but as we all know, contracts are never really set in stone and can be modified through negotiation. The Los Angeles Times is reporting Sony is looking to fill those time slots with a show from his daughter Daphne called The Good Dish, a project the studio tried to sell into syndication a few years ago, but no official announcement has been made.
In June 2020, Sony released stations from their obligations to carry Live PD: Police Patrol after protests from the death of George Floyd forced mothership Live PD off the air. During the same timeframe, Disney Media Distribution replaced off-network repeats of Cops with reruns of the final syndicated season of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to fulfill stations’ contracts through August 27 of this year.