- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

NEW YORK
If Martha Stewart's television empire is to crumble because of insider trading allegations, so far only a few tiny cracks are visible.
Ever since her infamous cabbage-stabbing appearance in June, the one television gig that Miss Stewart can't control her weekly segment on CBS' "The Early Show" has been put on indefinite hold. Neither Miss Stewart nor CBS want to mix cooking with financial questions again.
Yet Miss Stewart can still be seen every day on television, often several times a day.
Her syndicated show, "Martha Stewart Living," airs five times a week and is seen in most TV markets. More specific shows about aspects of domesticity air nearly every day on HGTV and The Food Network.
King World, the company that syndicates "Martha Stewart Living," reports no fallout from the scandal that has put Miss Stewart on the front pages of many newspapers this summer. She's being investigated to determine whether she had insider information that led her to drop a drug company's stock just before federal regulators rejected the company's application for a new colon cancer drug.
No advertisers have backed out of the show, and no stations have chosen to stop airing it, said Arthur Sando, King World spokesman.
Stations have always been able to schedule "Martha Stewart Living" and not worry about it, said Garnett Losak, an expert on syndication for Petry Television. The content is never controversial. The program gets decent, not great, ratings and is popular among many of the women who are daytime TV's predominant viewers. It has never been hard to find advertisers, she said.
But some station operators have privately expressed some antsiness about the show recently, Miss Losak said.
"The program that has really been headache-free for the last several years is beginning to cause a few headaches," she said.
Questions about the show's future grew louder when King World announced earlier this month that it was producing a new talk show, "Living it Up!," with hosts Jack Ford and Alexandra Wentworth. It's due to come on the air in fall 2003 and is designed to compete with "Live with Regis and Kelly." It will be produced live each day during the 9 a.m. time slot.
One problem: That's the same time slot where "Martha Stewart Living" airs in 52 of its 158 television markets, including six of the nation's 10 largest. Many observers in the industry immediately concluded that King World was looking to replace Miss Stewart with "Living it Up!"
Mr. Sando said that's not the case. The talk show was in development before investigators began looking into Miss Stewart's finances, he said. To be fair, it's common for syndicators to have shows in production or development that might compete with each other for airtime, much like the big networks do.
Both shows can air at any time during the day, and King World is leaving it up to interested stations to decide where to put them. Two big stations that now air "Martha Stewart Living" at 9 a.m., WCBS in New York and KCBS in Los Angeles, bought "Living it Up!" but haven't said when it will air.
If Miss Stewart's situation becomes stickier, the stations that carry her have an easy way out.
"Even if this didn't happen, you have to remember, she's been on for a while now," said Marc Berman, a TV analyst for Media Week Online. "Her ratings have been dropping for four years. Her show has long since peaked. In that situation, any syndicator would have to look to eventually replace her."
The ratings needle for "Martha Stewart Living" hasn't budged at all since the scandal broke.
"No one is saying, 'she's in this thing, I'm not watching.'" Mr. Berman said.
Nor has controversy increased her audience, as often happens.
At HGTV and The Food Network, executives have been closely watching e-mails and Web site postings from viewers for signs of restiveness toward Miss Stewart.
So far, the domestic diva's stock portfolio seems to mean little to people who want advice on cooking or decorating, said Cindy McConkey, vice president at Scripps-Howard Television, which owns both cable stations.
Most advertisers tend to buy package deals to air commercials on several of the networks' shows. None have specifically asked to stay away from Miss Stewart, Miss McConkey said. Ratings have stayed the same, too.
HGTV is shifting "From Martha's Home" from Saturday prime time to Sunday afternoons this fall, but that has nothing to do with concerns over the show's performance, Miss McConkey said. The network has new shows it wants to showcase, she said.
The cable shows are essentially "clip jobs," consisting of rerun segments from "Martha Stewart Living" over the years. As such, they're not dependent on the star recording new material.
How long the networks will want Miss Stewart's face on their air if her legal woes grow more serious is another matter.

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