Credit Rosie O'Donnell, whose feel-good, no-trash style of celebrity talk show may have helped dampen the demand for the nastiness of Jerry Springer.
One could say that O'Donnell begot Martin Short, whose talk-variety show is the brightest entry in a relatively quiet fall season of syndicated shows -- those produced and/or sold to stations regardless of their network affiliation.
"The Martin Short Show," like O'Donnell's, harkens back to the days of "Merv Griffin" and "Mike Douglas." The multi-talented Short recently won a Tony for his singing and dancing role in the Broadway play "Little Me," so -- also like Rosie -- expect him to burst into song during his 11 a.m. show, which started Sept. 13 on WJLA (Channel 7).
Another talk show starts Monday: "Latifah," hosted by actress and rap artist Queen Latifah, who has modeled her issue-oriented show after "Oprah." "Latifah" will air on WRC (Channel 4) at 11 a.m., replacing "Roseanne," a ratings weakling.
Also at WRC, "Later Today" landed in the daily 10 a.m. slot on Sept. 7. Although an NBC show, not a syndicated one, "Later Today" bears mentioning as it competes for female viewers with "Regis & Kathie Lee," which has migrated to WJLA and has improved its numbers at the same 9 a.m. hour.
At 10:30 a.m., WJLA will bring back the remade "Family Feud," hosted by Louie Anderson.
Other syndicated series include "Divorce Court" and "National Enquirer" at WTTG (Channel 5). The former, showcasing real couples in the throes of marital division, is hosted by Mablean Ephriam, an L.A. family court judge whose job it is to keep order in a potentially unpleasant arena. Two episodes of "Divorce Court" air at 10 a.m., preceding the returning "Judge Joe Brown" for a two-hour block.
"National Enquirer" follows the noon news with the latest Hollywood gossip in a tabloid for television.
And WTTG also welcomes "Maury Povich" back to where he started years ago with "Panorama." His returning talker airs at 9 a.m., bumping "Jenny Jones" to 1 p.m. daily. Channel 5 also picks up the sitcoms "Drew Carey" weeknights at 6:30 p.m. and "3rd Rock From the Sun" at midnight.
WUSA (Channel 9) didn't tinker with its daytime block. It did collect late-night fare "Blind Date" (weeknights at 1:37 a.m., Saturdays at 12:35 a.m.) and "Showtime at the Apollo" (Saturday, 11:35 p.m.)
WDCA (Channel 20) has "Dr. Joy Browne" weekdays at 1, followed by "Leeza," the talker that moved from Channel 4, at 2. Browne is a radio psychologist who promises to fix the problems people bring to her in each one-hour show.
On a lighter note, Channel 20 also collects "Your Big Break," which will showcase amateurs who mimic singing stars. "Break," produced by Dick Clark, will air Saturdays at 6 p.m.
Channel 20 also has "Wild Things," a nature show airing Saturdays at 9 a.m., and "Battle Dome," a twisted showcase of extreme sports airing Saturdays at 10 p.m.
WBDC (Channel 50) starts "Richard Simmons' Dream Maker," in which the exercise enthusiast fulfills folks' fantasies, Monday at 10 a.m. "Screen Gems," at 8 a.m. weekdays, batches together episodes of shows such as "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Bewitched" in an hour block.
Another court show, "Judge Mathis," will air 11 p.m. weeknights, with a repeat run at noon starting in October. A former gang member, Greg Mathis should rule with an understanding slam of the gavel.
If "Mathis" proves too serious, stay tuned for "Married . . . With Children," resuscitated weeknights at midnight.
Wondering where all the syndicated action shows are? WBDC has nearly all of the new ones, with "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World," about modern scientists in a prehistoric part of the Amazon jungle; "Peter Benchley's Amazon," with C. Thomas Howell, Carol Alt and four others surviving after a plane crash, also in the Amazon forest; and "BeastMaster," a new "loincloth" show, based on a movie about a man named Dar who talks with the animals. This last one ought to appease fans of "Hercules: the Legendary Journeys," which shuts down after this fall's eight episodes. "Lost World" will air Saturdays at noon, "Amazon" at 1 and "BeastMaster" at 4 (starting October 4).
Channel 50 picks up "Relic Hunter," an hour of globe-trotting action in which Tia Carrere finds "fabled lost treasures and rare stolen artifacts" for those who want them. But to see Carrere hunt, you'd better be a night owl -- "Relic Hunter" airs Saturday nights at 2 a.m. You might instead catch the NBC series "Profiler," repeating Sundays at 10 p.m.