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Will Chicago come up with replacement for Oprah?

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From the moment Oprah Winfrey tearfully announced plans to end her Chicago-based talk show in 2011 speculation erupted about what would come next. One of the first shows floated as a compatible replacement was “The View,” ABC’s high-rated and highly profitable multigenerational coffee klatch. Now ABC executives are starting to focus on that scenario as a serious possibility.

In an exclusive report Thursday on the website, editor Mike James revealed discussions among top officials of ABC and parent Walt Disney Co. about the future of “The View” and whether it should be repackaged for syndication as a replacement for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” (Since its inception in 1997, “The View” has followed Oprah in Chicago at 10 a.m. weekdays on WLS-Channel 7.)

As popular as “The View” may be, James reported, ABC’s owned stations and affiliates -- as well as co-creator and host Barbara Walters -- are strongly opposed to having the network show turned into a syndicated strip, which would force ABC stations to bid on a program they’ve carried for years. “Moving "ËœThe View’ into syndication and taking it into the marketplace would be both damaging and insulting,” one station manager told NewsBlues.

A more likely option reportedly would be for ABC to move “The View” to an afternoon slot -- either to 2 p.m. (bumping “General Hospital” to an earlier time) or to 3 p.m. as a lead-in to local news (which is when “The Oprah Winfrey Show” now airs in most other markets).

Meanwhile, Oprah’s own Chicago-based Harpo Productions is expected to step up with other talk shows it’s had a hand in producing or developing, such as Phil McGraw’s “Dr. Phil,” “Rachael Ray” and Mehmet Oz’s “The Dr. Oz Show.” Harpo is reported to be on a fast track to launch a new syndicated series with Nate Berkus, the Chicago decorator and designer who’s been a contributor to Oprah’s show for years.

Emily Barr, president and general manager of Channel 7, declined to comment on any of the speculation Thursday. But at the time of Oprah’s announcement last November, Barr was quoted as saying there’d be plenty of options to consider between now and September 2011:

“There’s always cycles in the television business. We are thrilled to have had this long association with Oprah and we will miss her, but we will also move on and see what else is out there.”

Some have surmised that the Chicago-based Live Well HD Network, which Barr launched last April and now airs on the digital tiers of all 10 ABC-owned stations, could serve as a laboratory for development of new programming to fill the void after Oprah’s departure from syndication.

An even more intriguing possibility would be for Channel 7 to go back to the drawing board and create a new local show that could originate from either of two studios in the ABC Building at 190 N. State. Besides bringing a little pizzazz back into the market after Oprah departs, a locally produced talk show would allow the station to control costs by avoiding exorbitant licensing fees.

And if the new show caught on, who knows? It might just be ripe for national syndication someday. For starters, maybe they could call it -- oh, I don’t know -- “A.M. Chicago.”

Elsewhere on the media beat:

  • While the 25th‚ annual Cubs Convention is going on this weekend at the Hilton Chicago, Bob Sirott will be ensconced in a room upstairs set up as a high definition video studio, conducting interviews with former Cub greats Andre Dawson, Ferguson Jenkins, Rick Sutcliffe and Lee Smith. As part of his “Cubs Legends” video series, Sirott already has taped in-depth conversations with Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. No word yet on where the videos will be shown, but they could turn up on a proposed video-on-demand Cubs channel or in the Cubs museum planned for a site adjacent to Wrigley Field. Sirott also hosts “The Noon Show” on Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720).
  • Two infomercial-type lifestyle shows produced by Tribune Co.-owned Oak Brook Productions will migrate this weekend from CLTV to WGN-Channel 9. Starting Sunday, “Homes Plus,” a guide to home design and real estate, will air at 11 a.m., and “Living Healthy Chicago,” a health and medical information show, will air at 11:30 a.m. Both will continue to air multiple times each week on CLTV as well.

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