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Perfect timing? WCVB to fill ‘Oprah’ slot with ‘Ellen’

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / November 12, 2010

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Ellen is the new Oprah.

Boston’s WCVB-TV (Channel 5) plans to replace the popular syndicated “The Oprah Winfrey Show’’ next fall with “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.’’

DeGeneres will move from 9 a.m. to Oprah’s 4 p.m. slot, and WCVB will replace the morning show with the syndicated “Live With Regis and Kelly,’’ hosted by Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa.

WHDH-TV (Channel 7), which currently airs Philbin and Ripa’s show, will replace that pro gram with a new local newscast at 9 a.m.

Chris Wayland, general manager of WHDH, said that several months ago he informed Buena Vista Television, which produces Philbin and Ripa’s show, that Channel 7 was not going to renew the contract in order to make room for its new morning newscast.

“The numbers in daytime have diminished, and generally with the program,’’ said Wayland, whose station will have seven hours of news daily once it adds the newscast. “We think there is an audience at 9 a.m. that doesn’t necessarily get to watch us from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.’’

WFXT-TV (Channel 25) also began airing a newscast at 9 a.m. this fall.

“As a brand and a franchise, ‘Regis and Kelly’ could not be a better match for us,’’ said Bill Fine, president and general manager of WCVB.

Fine declined to say how much his station paid for the syndication rights. DeGeneres’s show was Philbin and Ripa’s biggest competitor locally, he said, so it made sense to relocate the show to WCVB when it became available.

“People across the country know them by their first names and for their ability to launch every morning with a smile,’’ said Fine.

Last month, DeGeneres had 75,400 total viewers in Boston, compared with 68,000 who tuned into Philbin and Ripa. Among female viewers ages 25 to 54 in Boston, DeGeneres had 26,900 viewers to Philbin and Ripa’s 14,300, according to Nielsen Co.

The musical chairs in programming began last year, when Winfrey announced that she would be ending her daytime syndicated show in September 2011. Winfrey will quit to focus on her new cable network, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which will be launched in January.

News of her pending exit from syndication meant station managers across the country had to figure out how to fill that popular hour. This fall TV season, Winfrey’s show has dominated its time slot, averaging 6.9 million viewers in the last week of October.

Most top market TV stations haven’t announced their plans for replacing Winfrey’s show. In Winfrey’s home market of Chicago, the station will produce a local show. Others may be doing newscasts.

For 24 years, Winfrey’s 4 p.m. show has passed legions of viewers on to WCVB’s 5 p.m. newscast, which is the top-ranked newscast in that hour. Last month, the Winfrey show averaged 116,000 total viewers in Boston, and the newscast averaged 134,000 total viewers.

Fine said bringing DeGeneres to the 4 p.m. hour “is a fail safe. It’s a win-win for us.’’

TV analysts have said that DeGeneres is a natural successor for Winfrey in daytime because both are popular among female viewers. The two hosts have also appeared on each other’s programs in recent years. Winfrey also invited DeGeneres to share a cover of her O magazine last year.

“It’s probably a pretty seamless fit,’’ said Robert Thompson, a TV professor at Syracuse University. “Ellen is more of a comedian and Oprah is more of a lifestyle person, but there is a sensibility that is compatible between the two.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.