MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Every week, seven million people tuned in to Oprah. Her departure, along with the decline of soap operas, leave a huge hole in daytime television. And as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, nobody seems to know what's going to happen next.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: If you really want to find out about daytime TV, go to a nail salon where at least one TV is on all the time.
(Soundbite of TV show)
Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible) it's wonderful to see you two together...
BLAIR: Like Patsy's Nail Bar in Washington, D.C., where receptionist Crystal Jones controls the remote. She says she puts on what the clients want to watch.
Ms. CRYSTAL JONES (Receptionist, Patsy's Nail Bar): We go from "Ellen" to "Oprah" to "The Cash Cab."
BLAIR: "The Cash Cab" is a reality show on Discovery.
Crystal Jones says she's often riveted by some of Oprah Winfrey's interviews. And now she has to figure out how to replace her.
Ms. JONES: There is going to be a big empty space. I've noticed that we'll watch movies or we'll watch those shows where they do the makeovers, "What Not to Wear" and stuff like that instead.
BLAIR: "What Not to Wear" is on cable.
Unlike 25 years ago, when "The Oprah Winfrey Show" began, viewers today will have many more places to look for something else to watch when she's gone. Discovery hopes they'll switch to Oprah's new cable network, OWN. Crystal Jones says she's tried it but so far it's not the best fit for a nail salon. One recent Saturday they were running a marathon of Oprah's women in jail series.
Ms. JONES: That's a little bit much. Nobody wants to see that while they're getting their pedicures.
BLAIR: Now, if Crystal Jones is having trouble figuring out what to put on in Patsy's Nail Salon, imagine what it's like for station managers who are about to lose the most popular show in the 4:00 p.m. timeslot. Larry Gerbrandt is an analyst for Media Valuation Partners.
Mr. LARRY GERBRANDT (Media Valuation Partners): The local station manager is the one most directly on the line because he needs to generate a certain level of ratings to deliver to advertisers.
BLAIR: Daunting is how one station manager put the prospect of filling the Oprah void. There are certainly some contenders being bandied about: Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper. Or they could move Ellen DeGeneres or Dr. Oz into that spot.
Mr. GERBRANDT: No clear winners have emerged and certainly nobody has swept the deck.
BLAIR: The other big sea change taking place on daytime TV: ABC canceled "One Life To Live" and "All My Children."
(Soundbite of TV show, "All My Children")
Ms. SUSAN LUCCI (Actress): (as Erica Kane) The thing I want more than anything is to take my life back, Jack.
BLAIR: Wow. Erica looks great, and fans are not happy about her going away.
(Soundbite of protest)
BLAIR: Last week, they protested in New York. Fans even urged Oprah Winfrey to bring them to OWN. She videotaped a message saying she felt their pain.
Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (Talk Show Host): I understand. I understand the loyalty. I understand the sense of disappointment. I felt this way when Mary Tyler Moore went off the air, I must say.
BLAIR: But even Oprah can't save the soaps. Their audiences have declined, but more importantly, the broadcast networks can save money by filling those time slots with talk or reality shows.
Even though broadcast TV has the bigger audience numbers, the programming is looking more and more like cable all the time.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.