Two more years of ‘Oprah’ talk
~Winfrey has changed mind about ending show in 2006~

RELATED ABC7LA ARTICLES: Looks like retirement's not for Oprah | Oprah's Tour | Oprah for President?
: | Oprah on ABC7 | | Buena Vista | WABC-TV | WLS-TV

(NOTE: Each link opens in a new window)

Image: 001231cvr_seattle_oprah_9aShe's back -- or at least not going away anytime soon. Oprah Winfrey has had a change of heart about wrapping up her syndicated talk show in the 2005-'06 season and is close to finalizing a deal to renew her show for two more seasons, through the 2007-'08 season, with distributor King World Prods. and the core ABC-owned stations that carry the show, sources said Monday.

NEGOTIATIONS HAVE BEEN quietly taking place for several weeks among King World, Winfrey and the seven ABC outlets that form the backbone of the talk show's affiliate station base. But it was reportedly not a shoo-in for the ABC stations as the CBS-owned stations, King World's corporate siblings under the Viacom umbrella, were understood to have made a significant bid to land "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2006.

It is understood that the ABC stations re-upping, including the group's flagships -- WABC New York, KABC Los Angeles and WLS Chicago -- are paying significantly higher license fees to lock in the highest-rated talk show in syndication.

Winfrey made it clear last year that she was bowing out of the show when she committed to host until the end of the 2005-'06 season. That decision sent syndication program development executives scrambling and put stations actively on the lookout for replacements; ergo, her decision to stay on for at least an extra two years will also have a ripple effect throughout the syndication business.

For instance, it had been speculated that Buena Vista Television, which is corporately aligned to the ABC station group under the Walt Disney Co., was anticipating that its daytime strip "The Wayne Brady Show" might move into the "Oprah" slots on the ABC stations in time. It is also understood that Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution was anticipating an opportunity to open up some real estate in "Oprah" time periods for its upcoming talk show "Ellen," hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

It is not clear what the situation will be with the King World-syndicated hit talk show "Dr. Phil," hosted by Dr. Phil McGraw. McGraw came to prominence on "Oprah," and Winfrey's company Harpo Prods. created the concept of his show. A noncompete clause currently prevents stations from airing "Dr. Phil" directly against "Oprah." Most, if not all, "Dr. Phil" stations assumed that when "Oprah" went away, they would be able to move "Dr. Phil" into key new time periods. It is understood that the noncompete clause will continue to apply to the "Dr. Phil" stations when they come to renew through 2008. "Dr. Phil" is being renewed for the 2004-05 and 2005-'06 seasons and is sold in 95 percent of the country through 2006.

The latest round of renewals not only puts "Oprah" in a ballgame of its own in terms of license fees but catapults it into a new league altogether. The one-hour strip is known to command license fees of more than $300,000 a week in New York and Los Angeles and grosses an estimated $300 million a year for King World.

Produced by Harpo Prods., the Chicago-based "Oprah" has consistently ranked as daytime's top-rated talk show since its debut in 1986, other than for a brief moment when "The Jerry Springer Show" managed a look in at the top of the syndication talk rankings in the 1998-'99 season. Over that period, Winfrey has become an international superstar and entrepreneur, delving into television, production and a Winfrey-branded monthly magazine. Her talk show boasts an average audience of about 26 million viewers a week.

King World declined comment Monday, while a Winfrey spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.