Daytime talk shows are having an identity crisis.

And the companies that make them are trying to figure out how to stem the overall erosion in viewership that has plagued daytime syndication for the last few seasons. 

That's an over-simplified way of explaining why the new crop of talk shows -- the ones premiering next month and the ones being considered for a year from now -- seem poised to steer away from the salacious topics that characterize most daytime talk shows in favor of lighter subjects such as celebrity interviews, lifestyle segments and even comedy. 

In the entire bunch of shows in development, none seem to be shaping up as successors to Maury Povich and Jerry Springer. 

Instead, talk-show syndicators appear to be positioning their contenders as heirs to Rosie O'Donnell, who ended her show last spring, and Oprah Winfrey, who has announced she'll end her run in 2006. 

A case in point: The latest talk-show wannabe to join the fray is comic actress Kirstie Alley, who has been signed to make a pilot for Disney-owned Buena Vista Television, the company confirmed yesterday. 

If the pilot sells, look for Kirstie to enter the talk-show arena in fall 2003 (although Buena Vista wouldn't talk about a start date). If she makes it, her potential competitors a year from now will include Sarah Ferguson, the dutchess of York, and, possibly, Katie Couric, the newly created team of Alexandra Wentworth and Jack Ford, and the longest long-shot of all, Bill Clinton. Expect none of them to host shows focusing on out-of-control teens or people with deformities. 

The same goes for this season's new crop of shows, which include one lifestyle counselor (Dr. Phil McGraw), two comedians (Caroline Rhea and Wayne Brady), a psychic/medium (James Van Praagh) and a crimefighter (John Walsh).

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