Everybody wins on Oprah's Big Car Giveaway.
First, on Monday all 276 members of the "Oprah" studio audience get free Pontiac cars. Pontiac gets a gazillion dollars' worth of free publicity as Oprah Winfrey turns over the first half-hour of her show to plugging the new car model, the G6, including 15 on-air mentions by the daytime diva herself. Pontiac, part of General Motors, gets another zillion dollars of free publicity the next day when the Oprah car freebie is covered on "Good Morning America," CNN, major newspapers across the country, "The Daily Show" -- you name it.
Now, the best part of all, Oprah gets a little something in return -- the biggest season debut audience for her syndicated show since 1996.
About 24 percent of the homes that had their TV sets turned on during that hour Monday were tuned in to Oprah's 19th season debut, early stats show. In the metered markets, which account for about 75 million of the country's 108 million homes, nearly 8 million homes were watching Oprah bestow cars on those in her studio audience as they screamed loud and long -- like cicadas, as Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" noted the next night.
For comparison, in those same metered markets, "Dr. Phil" copped 3.5 million homes that day; the new celebrity show "The Insider," hosted by Pat O'Brien, bagged about 2 million; and Jane Pauley's new daytime talker clocked 1.4 million.
"It's a very good way to introduce a product with a splash, with a highly credible spokesperson and to a group that is not that easy to reach and important to Pontiac, predominately females," General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner told the Detroit News.
But wait, the giving doesn't end there! Additional segments on Oprah's show will feature some of the car winners, Pontiac's marketing director told the paper, and the G6 will be among the prizes on the next edition of "Survivor," which is broadcast by CBS, which is owned by Viacom, which, coincidentally, distributes "Oprah." General Motors is one of the product-placement sponsors of "Survivor."
Not all of the coverage of Oprah's bounty was positive, however. On CNN, Anderson Cooper groused, "Hey, Oprah, thanks for making all the rest of us on television look like pikers. I guess we know what we can do with our tote bags and our laminated posters now. . . . It's really hard keeping up with the Joneses when the Joneses are Oprah. . . . Anyway, we're not that impressed. You buy that many cars, you probably get a volume discount."
Added Stewart: "The whole thing makes me angry. Oprah violated the talk show host code, a sacred trust, to treat the studio audience like [expletive]."
"Thank you, Oprah, thank you very much. Perhaps next you can ruin Christmas."
USA Network has replaced Bitty Schram, who played the all-suffering nurse/sidekick to Tony Shalhoub's obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk on its series "Monk," with Traylor Howard.
Howard is perhaps best known as the chick on ABC's "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place," which was later changed to "Two Guys and a Girl" when it started to look sad that three actors of their age were still working in a pizza parlor.
Some may remember Howard as the chick on NBC's sitcom "Boston Common" who couldn't make up her mind between her prig prof boyfriend and Anthony Clark (now of "Yes, Dear" fame).
Mercifully, few of you will remember her as a chick in CBS's short-lived "Bram and Alice" who seeks out her long-lost womanizing writer father, who, on meeting her, initially thinks she's some chick he's gotten pregnant.
On "Monk," Howard will play Natalie, a former bartender and single mom who becomes Monk's assistant and antiseptic-wipe carrier.
"Every successful series changes over the course of its life. We were fortunate to have Bitty Schram in our cast for 21/2 seasons, and we are thrilled to have Traylor Howard join our cast now," USA programming chief Jeff Wachtel said in a statement.
Executive Producer David Hoberman also said he was thrilled.
When USA announced in August that Schram was history, they said it was a result of a decision to go in a different direction creatively with the show. But trade papers reported that Schram and other supporting cast members had tried to renegotiate their contracts for more money, which would not be unusual in a situation where a series takes off in the ratings.
What is unusual is the hard line networks have been taking with actors trying to renegotiate. Most notoriously, CBS chief Leslie Moonves recently sacked two supporting cast members on "CSI" when they didn't show up to work while pressing for pay raises; they eventually returned, sans pay hikes.