LOS ANGELES Two is company and three's a crowd on any TV show schedule but September will see the launch of four new daytime talk shows - all on the same day - forcing producers to start early with innovative ways of finding and engaging audiences.
Ricki Lake, Katie Couric, "Survivor" host Jeff Probst and comedian Steve Harvey all kick off their daytime ventures on September 10. They will enter a female-dominated market for chat, lifestyle, health and cooking already occupied by the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper, Wendy Williams, Dr. Phil McGraw and the ladies of "The View" and "The Talk".
It's more than a year since queen of talk Oprah Winfrey left the daytime building after a 25-year-run of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," opening the door for new and fresh faces to try their hand at becoming a best friend to millions of female viewers.
"When Oprah left daytime, there was still a need for this girlfriend feeling that she gave audiences," said Stephen Brown, whose 20th Television is behind upcoming, syndicated "The Ricki Lake Show."
"No-one is going to be the new Oprah, but with Ricki, we have that girl who will be your girlfriend," Brown, senior vice president of programming and development, told Reuters.
Lake, 43, and a mother of two, already is a household name in the United States after launching her first talk show in 1993 at age 23, and hosting it for 11 seasons.
Also a movie actress, she cha-cha-cha'd her way to the finals of "Dancing With the Stars" in Fall 2011, but producers aren't taking for granted that her celebrity will lure fans to TV in an increasingly fragmented media market where loyalty must be earned everyday.
In March, they launched monthly, live interactive production meetings for "The Ricki Lake Show" that put members of the public in direct contact with Lake and production staff as they plan the new venture. The next meeting is on May 31 and can be seen through Facebook page facebook.com/TheRickiLakeShow.
And this week sees the unveiling of the show's digital magazine "Ricki," packed with parenting, fashion and fitness advice and where Lake tells readers about her decision to elope with husband Christian Evans in April. The cover image was chosen by the public, and the magazine can be downloaded for free through iTunes, Google Play and the Amazon.com App store.
CONVERSATION NOT PRESENTATION
"We are launching this show in a completely different way," said Brown. "We want the show to be a conversation, not a presentation. We believe women love talking and sharing ideas and experiences and stories."
Brown said "The Ricki Lake Show" Facebook page jumped from 10,000 likes to 73,000 likes after the first interactive production meeting
In the past, Brown said, producers would put out new shows "and hope to God the audience comes and finds them. This time we are engaging audiences ahead of time in an authentic way."
Familiarity is no guarantee of success. Brown said the show's target audience of 25 to 54-year-old females need to be brought up-to-date with the woman Lake is now.
"When we started development, we realized the audience was used to Ricki from her old talk show - the 'weave wars' and the who's your daddy (paternity tests)," he said.
"So we had to reintroduce her as who she is now, a mom with two kids. We are of a mind that the audience has changed and so has she."
TV journalist Couric, who became the nation's sweetheart when she hosted NBC's "Today" morning news show for 15 years, also has been busy ahead of the launch of "Katie" in September.
Couric, 55, launched a weekly digital video series on Yahoo! on May 1 that features her in brief chats with experts on topics like taking your daughter to a gynecologist and spring cleaning.
Probst has said his syndicated "Jeff Probst Show" will cover topics ranging from relationships to newsmakers, and the show's official website urges viewers to share ideas for stories, as well as things they don't want to hear.
He also will continue with his Emmy-award winning night job as host of long-running CBS reality contest "Survivor".
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant)