NEW YORK, Sept. 8 -- Stephanie Miller, a virtual unknown to most TV viewers, will go up against David Letterman and Jay Leno Sept. 15 in the late-night talk show realm, a field that seems to have little room for another host. Miller, 33, will make her debut in about 90 percent of the nation's TV markets according to the show's syndicator, Buena Vista Television. In some markets the 'Stephanie Miller Show' will be seen as early as 11 p.m., in others as late as 12:30 a.m. In New York it will air at midnight, overlapping both Letterman and Leno. 'This is the biggest financial risk Buena Vista has ever taken,' said Mort Marcus, president of the Disney-owned TV company. 'But it also has by far the biggest upside, because late night is where you find the most desirable demographic group, adults 18 to 49 years of age, so you can get a premium from the advertisers. 'If Stephanie is successful, Buena Vista and the stations can reap a lot of money.' It's a tough field. Among the most recent casualties is comedian Jon Stewart's show, which was canceled earlier this year as the result of almost invisible ratings. The daytime talk market is booming, with six new shows hitting the airwaves this fall, joining relative veterans like 'The Oprah Winfrey Show,' 'Donahue' and 'Live With Regis & Kathy Lee.' But nobody seems willing to take the plunge into late night. Miller is optimistic about her chances on late-night television even though she is barely recognized outside the Los Angeles area, where she had a two-hour call-in radio show for the past two years.
'Just because you are known or are well-liked is no guarantee because look at the big celebrity names -- Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers, Pat Sajak -- who have tried being a talk show host and failed,' she said in an interview. 'Maybe it's good not to carry the baggage of a name and a persona from somewhere else. Then there can be no expectations.' Miller said she thinks the American public is especially wary of having anything shoved down their throats. 'Like when Chevy Chase got started and there was this hype of 'you've absolutely got to watch, because he's the next big star of late night,' and the public said: 'Hey, wait a minute. We'll decide who's the next big star of late night.' 'Anyway, if it's a good show, there's always room for more,' she added. Even 'The Late Show With David Letterman' on CBS, No. 1 nationally in its time period, is feeling the heat of a flame-up in the ratings for 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,' and ABC's news-oriented 'Nightline' often outrates both Letterman and Leno. However, as Marcus pointed out, a program still can be very profitable with a rating as low as 3.0. He noted that 'The Arsenio Hall Show,' which closed down last year after a five-year run, rarely posted a rating higher than 3 and still made about $50 million a year for its syndicator, Paramount, and a reported $12 million for Hall. 'We're looking to do between a 2 and 3 rating with Stephanie, and I think she'll make it,' he said. Miller, a chatty, attractive woman with long brown hair, is the youngest of four daughters of the late William E. Miller, a New York congressman who was Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater's running mate in the 1964 presidential race. She started her career as a stand-up comedian. After three years as an FM station disc jockey in New York, she moved to Los Angeles in 1993 to develop a TV sitcom that never materialized. She landed the radio job instead and attracted the attention of Buena Vista talent scouts who liked a ratings profile that showed she was particularly popular with men listeners. One of her fans was Leno himself, who called in to talk with her on her show several times. In July, Leno had Miller on his 'Tonight Show' as a guest and encouraged her promote her own Burbank, Calif.-based show, which she describes as 'very Vegas-y' with a set more like a hip comedy club than a classic studio with desk, chairs and bandstand. In addition to chattingwith guests, Miller will perform videotaped comedy sketches with friends from her stand-up days who will act as an in-house repertory company for the show. 'Stephanie Miller Show' borrows from its daytime counterparts by inviting the studio audience to ask questions of Miller and her guests, but there is a twist: Instead of the common roving microphone and camera to pick up the audience comments, they will call in on a 'picture phone,' according to Buena Vista. 'I don't know how to describe what I'll be doing but someone once described me as Johnny Carson mixed with Carol Burnett,' she said.