When Oprah Winfrey finally calls it quits and rides off into the sunset next year, WLS-Channel 7 plans to replace her syndicated talk show with a brand-new live, local morning show to originate from its studios at 190 N. State St.
That's the word from Emily Barr, president and general manager of the top-rated ABC-owned station, which has served as Oprah's flagship outlet at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday for a quarter-century. "We're very excited about the prospect of doing a live, local show," Barr said in an interview Monday. "I think it's going to be very invigorating."
Based on a three-minute demo tape using the working title of "Morning Rush" and featuring quick cuts of people and places in and around Chicago, Barr won approval from her ABC bosses to develop the show. "We literally threw it all in there, not knowing exactly what we were going to do, but knowing that we had to show what we're capable of doing," she said of the tape. "Nothing has been decided yet in terms of the show's hosts or set or look or name -- except to say that we intend to make it live and local and fun." One more thing: It's also expected to feature a studio audience each day.
A job opening recently was posted for an executive producer to oversee the show and hire the hosts, contributors and staff. "It would be great to get someone who's done live TV and who has experience with something like this," Barr said. "To do a five-day-a-week show live every day is a tall order. You want someone who has the experience, creativity and stamina to crank something like that out. They're not easy shows to do."
Until now, it had been widely assumed that Channel 7 would replace "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with another syndicated product or with one of the lifestyle programs from the Live Well HD Network already airing on the digital tiers of the 10 ABC-owned television stations. But after evaluating the potential of a purely local production targeting women between the ages of 25 and 54 in the hour between "Good Morning America" and "The View," Barr formulated the ambitious new plan:
"I'm not trying to re-invent Oprah Winfrey. This is not going to be "The Oprah Winfrey Show' with some new host. I think we want to go in a completely different direction. We want to do something that feels lighter rather than heavier, fun without being too silly, smart without feeling too sophisticated. If we can do all of that, and get the right hosts and make it both predictable and unpredictable, then I think people will try us out."
Barr emphasized the local mandate of the show, insisting that it was not her goal to turn it into a national offering -- as was the case with Oprah as well as "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" (forerunner of "Live with Regis and Kelly"). "What gets people jazzed and excited is the idea of doing local TV, because there's nothing more fun. That's exactly why we all got into the business -- going all the way back," she added. "If we can find the right formula, I think people will enjoy it. I'm just hoping that with the ownership we've had of this time period, this will be another opportunity for us to do something terrific."