The year is ending, and not a moment too soon for CBS.
As Eye web programming execs reflect on the first 12 weeks of the season – and the 17 shows that were either new to the airwaves or new to their time period – they will find the bright spots few and far between, and the bitter lessons piling up everywhere.
CBS finds this former corner-stone in desperate need of a new blockbuster to replace the aging “Murphy Brown” as anchor. “Murphy” is averaging a 13.6 rating and 20 share through the first three months of the season. That’s a decline of 8% from last season but, more significantly, a drop of 18% below what it earned in the first 12 weeks of 1993-94 and a full 32% below its 1992-93 numbers. (All figures are based on Nielsen data.) There is moderately good ending, news at the top and bottom: “The Nanny” (12.6/19) is only two-tenths of a rating point below last season’s numbers, and “Chicago Hope” (12.5/20) has settled in nicely in “Northern Exposure’s” old slot, only three-tenths of a point below what “Exposure” averaged there last year despite a sharp drop in the lead-in.
CBS’ initial new show at 9:30, “If Not for You,” managed only a 10.9/16, while its replacement, “High Society,” has slipped to a 10.6/16 (each holding only about 80% of “Brown’s” viewers). Last year, by contrast, “Love & War” was scoring a 12.8/19 and held 86% of the lead-in. “Can’t Hurry Love,” the other rookie, is scoring an 11.6/17 at 8:30. While it is holding 92% of its “Nanny” lead-in, the ratings are 17% below what “Dave’s World” earned there a season ago.
Two years ago, “Rescue 911” was averaging a 13.9/22 and the Tuesday Movie followed with an equally solid 13.7/22. Last year, the shows slipped to 10.9/17 and 11.4/18, respectively. Sensing that the reality rage had finally run its course, CBS opted for a drama at 8 p.m. – a good idea, had the web chosen something more dramatic than “The Client,” which has attracted only an 8.3/13 while the Tuesday Movie (9.6/15) has dropped as well.
Always a trouble spot for CBS, this year the web outdid itself: It took three new shows – “Bless This House,” “Central Park West” and “Courthouse” – and tried to build an instant night out of them while simultaneously undermining the mildly popular “Dave’s World” by shoving it in the middle of this mess. It’s back to the beginning to program out of this fiasco.
“Murder, She Wrote” might have aged gracefully on Sundays, but the show has found its assignment opposite NBC’s Thursday lineup truly murderous. Its 6.4/10 average is down 12% from what “Due South” earned in the slot last year and 42% below what “In the Heat of the Night” managed there two years ago. The now-folded “New York News” was also off sharply from what “Chicago Hope,” and “Eye to Eye With Connie Chung” managed at 9 p.m. last season.
The drastic falloff from 8 to 10 p.m. has killed the web’s one chance of modest success on Thursday. A newsmagazine would be the only realistic counterprogramming to “ER,” but with no help from the lead-ins, “48 Hours” has averaged only a 7.1/12.
By trying to attract a younger audience, CBS undid the small steps forward in households that the web had taken last year.
CBS experienced a steep household swoon by replacing old-skewing “Diagnosis Murder” (10.5/19) with the sitcoms “Dweebs” (5.9/11) and “The Bonnie Hunt Show” (5.5/10), and “Picket Fences” floundered at 9 p.m. despite its good core audience at 10 p.m. last year. After grabbing a 10.3/19 through 12 weeks last season, it is earning just a 6.9/12 so far this year. (“Under Suspicion” scored 9.3/16 in the 9 p.m. period last year.)
The new drama “American Gothic” attracted solid media buzz, but the series managed only a 7.2/13; although that’s 30% below what “Picket Fences” scored there last year, it was actually an improvement over its lead-in.
The web has taken steps to remedy this situation. On Dec. 8, it aired a trio of “Due South,” “Diagnosis” and “Picket” and managed a better-than-usual 7.9/13.
Although “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” continues to wane – at 9.4/17, it is 20% below last season and 35% below two seasons ago – the rest of the night is in good shape. “Touched by an Angel” (10.3/18) improves on the lead-in and remains a marked improvement over last season’s sitcoms, “Five Mrs. Buchanans” and “Hearts Afire,” while “Walker, Texas Ranger” (12.4/22) continues to improve, up 8% from last season.
Ask not for whom the clock ticks, it ticks for thee. Last season, the first without NFL football, “60 Minutes”‘ average through 12 weeks declined 14% to 18.0/29. This season, the veteran newsmag has lost another 20% of its viewers, mustering only a 14.4/24.
The rest of the night has followed suit. “Cybill” (10.3/16) and “Almost Perfect” (9.0/14) may skew younger than “Murder, She Wrote,” but they are attracting 41% fewer viewers than the ancient mystery show. The Sunday Movie, not surprisingly, is down by 20%.