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Fall talk shows face uphill battle

Exactly why anyone would want to host a syndicated TV talk show is beyond me. Unless you're Dr. Phil, no matter how famous or entertaining you are, the odds of lasting more than a single season are about as slim as hitting the Powerball jackpot.

And if you're a woman, the odds are even worse. Just ask Dr. Laura or Roseanne Barr or even Rosie O'Donnell, whose ratings during the last couple of years of her show dropped like a human sausage hit by a baseball bat.

Next up are Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne, both of whom will be entering the syndicated talk-show death march this fall. DeGeneres will premiere Sept. 8 on KGW (8), airing at 10 a.m. weekdays. Osbourne's show launches on KWBP (32) the following week, time yet to be determined. Both will be treading where Donny and Marie, Suzanne Somers and even Tammy Faye Bakker quickly succumbed.

Still, both DeGeneres (whose voice work in this summer's hit movie 'Finding Nemo' may have revived her career) and Osbourne (wife of Ozzy and recovered from colon cancer) have a lot in their favor. They're intelligent, likable, funny, hardworking and savvy.

From Johnny Carson to Oprah, every hit talk-show host has had those qualities Ñ none of which, you may note, derive from the word 'talk.' That's because the key is listening well Ñ and then responding even better. The common denominator in the long list of talk-show failures was the hosts' inability to engage in stimulating and entertaining conversation. Too much of that ego thing, don't you know.

DeGeneres told the summer gathering of TV critics: 'People keep asking if it's going to be like Rosie O'Donnell É and I keep saying it's going to be like Ellen DeGeneres.' OK, so what's that? A lot of people have forgotten that before she became a cultural landmark, DeGeneres was hilarious as a standup comic. Her quick mind and observational brand of comedy could stand her very well in her new role.

So, DeGeneres has the makings for success in 20th-century talk. Trouble is, time passes and tastes change. I'm guessing that daytime America expects more now than just comedy bits, celebrity interviews, 'My mother is a prostitute!' and second-tier musical acts. Oprah and Dr. Phil are living proof that you need much more than Justin Timberlake and Charo to have a successful daytime talk show. (Perhaps indicating that she's grasped the need for something different, DeGeneres has said there won't be a house band on her show.)

As for Osbourne, the road could be even steeper. Relying on bleeped four-letter words won't work this time. Besides, there will be no Ozzy and the kids to play off of. As she brings her act to daytime, it's only natural to worry that Osbourne will lower the bizarre bar even more.

We could use a couple of good, strong talk shows. And I wish these two good luck. But they're going to need a lot more than that.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..