Martha Stewart Living (MSO) pulled something of a bait-and-switch with investors this week.
As anticipated, the company
announced a new television show that will debut next fall. But the show was not the one investors and analysts expected. Although the company has a contract with star television producer Mark Burnett, it didn't announce a new reality show a la Burnett's
Instead, Martha Stewart Living announced a successor program to its syndicated
Martha Stewart Living
show, a daytime, daily kitchen and crafts show that the company suspended last spring following company founder Martha Stewart's
conviction on obstruction of justice charges.
Despite the switch, investors cheered the news, sending the company's stock up nearly 17% in three days. Some analysts were a bit more skeptical, though,
questioning whether the show would fare better than its predecessor -- and whether it would help turn around the company's flagging fortunes.
Troy Wolverton spoke with Susan Lyne, Martha Stewart Living's new CEO, on Thursday about Stewart's new show, the upcoming prime-time program and the company's prospects.
Q: What's the status of the prime-time show that you are working on with Survivor producer Mark Burnett?
I don't think we're even going to start talking about that until Martha comes back from Alderson
Federal Prison Camp. She's not allowed to talk business while she's in there. She and Mark
Burnett did have the chance to talk about the syndicated show before she went away, but the prime-time show we still have to brainstorm about.
Q: Some analysts have expected that the prime-time show will debut next fall. Is that the plan?
I have to be speculative about that at this point. It's certainly possible.
Q: In terms of the syndicated show that you just announced, do you have any agreement with stations about what times it will run?
We haven't even started to talk about it; we concluded
the contract so recently. That's next.
Q: You have deals with the NBC owned-and-operated stations to run the syndicated show. Do you have any other deals in the works?
No, but there's been enormous interest in it. Heidi Diamond
president of Martha Stewart Living's television division and I have both gotten a lot of calls from people saying they want to talk.
But we have no expectation of when we will announce more deals.
Q: What will Stewart get paid for this show?
Martha's fee on this -- she's not treating this like a talent deal. This is a show she's doing with and for the company. While I imagine there will be a fee, it will not be anything like the fees that a Rosie
O'Donnell or an Ellen
DeGeneres gets. When someone is acting as a pure talent on a show, it's a very different situation. We haven't discussed it, is my real answer. But she's not expecting a real fee.
Q: How will the new syndicated show be different from the previous version of Martha Stewart Living?
The old show was a very fresh, ground-breaking show when it launched. It was beautifully produced. It was all done in a studio, where Martha spoke to camera.
In this case we are opening the show up. It will be taped live with a studio audience. You can't go back and do a second, third or fourth take, which will make the show considerably more spontaneous. It's just a completely different format. The
previous show was a very intimate show, with Martha talking to us, the audience. This is Martha talking to an audience of a couple hundred people. It will allow her real fans to interact with her up close. And it will allow her to have more fun.
The nice thing about taping a show live is that mistakes happen and become a part of the show itself. For people to see that Martha -- despite the fact that she is unbelievably skilled at all these things -- sometimes cuts a rose too short: To allow a more human side of Martha to come through is definitely something we're looking to do.
Martha is a very different character from the figure that seemed to do everything so perfectly and so seriously on her show. You have to give credit to Mark: He saw something in Martha that other people missed.
Q: The previous iteration of Martha Stewart Living was put on hiatus amid poor ratings and stations canceling it. Why will this version do any better?
There are no sure things. But I do think that in a universe of daytime television that is for the most part very derivative -- there is a lot of talk -- the idea of a show that is about doing things: I think that we can make this both a how-to show, deliver some real value to viewers and have a show that is engagingly interpersonal.
I know her
old show was extremely successful for years,
but the format hadn't changed since it launched. Any show that stays the same for that long will ultimately lose its audience. In an odd way, this hiatus for the show turned out to be an opportunity to rethink what the next iteration of the Martha Stewart show would be.
Q: The old show was dropped after the advertisers abandoned it. Will the new show lure them back?
It's obviously early to be asking that, but we've gotten a lot of calls.
Q: What will this show mean for the company's financials?
I can't tell you that. But I'm very comfortable that we will bring advertisers back to both the publications and the television show. All the indications here are very good.