Disney-ABC Domestic Television/Associated Press
Live with Regis and Kelly in January 2010, shortly after Philbin returned to the show after undergoing hip replacement surgery.
Host Regis Philbin, left, laughs with co-host Kelly Ripa on the set of
Host Regis Philbin, left, laughs with co-host Kelly Ripa on the set of Live with Regis and Kelly in January 2010, shortly after Philbin returned to the show after undergoing hip replacement surgery. Disney-ABC Domestic Television/Associated Press
Today, Regis Philbin announced that he will leave Live With Regis And Kelly later this year after hosting it for — counting the years with Kathie Lee Gifford — 28 years.
If you're tempted to consider this a minor television blip, consider this: Regis' salary prior to his current contract was reported at $21 million a year. Even assuming he makes the same money now, that's more than Matt Lauer makes, it's twice what Bill O'Reilly makes — it's only a little less than what Jay Leno makes. It's more than Ryan Seacrest makes for his Idol job. Live With Regis And Kelly is big business.
But there's another piece to this puzzle. If you look at the top syndicated shows on television — let's take the top 25 shows of the week ending January 2 — almost exactly half of them are reruns. They're not new stuff, they're just syndicated repeats of shows like Two And A Half Men, Seinfeld, and Family Guy.
Of the 13 shows that are original content, The Oprah Winfrey Show is in its final season, Mary Hart is leaving Entertainment Tonight, and now Regis is retiring. (As Michael Schneider of Variety tweeted this morning, "RIP, syndication!") Other than the two shows Oprah birthed from Drs. Oz and Phil, and the ESPN football that isn't really traditional syndication, here's what else you have: Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Inside Edition, and Judge Judy. Would you like to guess the average age of those four shows?
The average age of those four shows is 29.75. That's right — they're an average of almost 30 years old, and the youngest is Judge Judy, which premiered in 1996.
What does all this mean? Nobody except Oprah has come up with a new program that's been a big hit in syndication in the last fifteen years. At the same time, broadcast networks' daytime staples, game shows and soaps, are struggling, too.
Among other things, broadcast television competes during the day with cable channels that, in many cases, rebroadcast their evening programming or reruns to which they have the rights, which is a pretty cheap way to fill the day. For that reason, whatever you find on (for instance) your local ABC affiliate is competing with constant Mythbusters and Project Runway and America's Top Model marathons that nobody has to pay more money to produce.
As big syndicated shows topple, they leave a hole that it's not obvious anything else is going to successfully fill. They'll try to keep Entertainment Tonight going without Mary Hart, and they'll probably try to find somebody else to co-host Live With Kelly And Somebody Or Other, but this is a segment where traditional kinds of programming are having a tough time replacing what drops. Just like a network needs new prime-time shows when old shows end, a syndicate needs new syndication possibilities, and with Oprah taking her considerable power to mint new stars to her new cable network, it's fair to wonder where the next big successes in syndication are going to come from.
No one has suggested that we're at the end of syndicated television, or that stations will throw their hands in the air and stop buying syndicated shows. At the same time, even Judy Sheindlen is going to retire someday, and so will Alex Trebek, and so will Pat Sajak. What happens to those stalwarts then? And is there a point where it's cost-effective to just throw in the towel on first-run syndication and show old episodes of Seinfeld all day?