‘House’ falls when left unprotected

A hot topic among programmers this fall is whether new series benefit from sampling picked up in protected time periods or whether they must sink or swim in their own slot.

The dazzling 16.1 rating and 27 share turned in by the Tuesday Sept. 12 premiere of “The Jeff Foxworthy Show” (off a 10.8/19 lead-in) may indicate that the experiment has merits, but to get a better handle – and a cautionary tale – on how many viewers are likely to follow the show to its Saturday night timeslot, one need look no further than the disastrous Wednesday Sept. 13 debut for CBS'” Bless This House.”

Good start

The show premiered on Monday, Sept. 11, with a respectable 11.6/18 in the 8:30 p.m. slot, maintaining an impressive 92% of its lead-in, “The Nanny” (which kicked off its year with a 12.6/21 to match last season.) It won the time period, topping a solid performance from Fox’s “Melrose Place,” 11.0/17 (10.8/17 for the hour) and a woeful showing from ABC’s “The Marshal,” 5.8/10.

Perhaps this roll of the dice on Andrew Clay was not such a bad one after all, CBS execs were probably thinking. Unfortunately, optimism dissipates quickly on network TV and by Wednesday, those same execs may well have been cursing “Bless.”

On Sept. 13, in its regular 8 p.m. anchor slot – and without a comfortable lead-in cushion – the sitcom garnered a meager 7.5/13. Fortunately for CBS, NBC’s “seaQuest DSV” was still in repeats, so “Bless” had no competition for third place. It was not, however, in the same ball park as ABC’s opening episode of “Ellen” (12.3/22) and Fox’s season debut of “Beverly Hills, 90210” (10.6/19).

Troubled time

Of course, CBS has long had trouble getting anyone to tune in to that time period, but the fact that “Dave’s World” at 8:30 attracted one-third more viewers to an equally troubled time period sends out the signal that Monday’s “Bless” performance may have been a mirage.

Even worse for CBS was the fact that its heavily-hyped Darren Star nighttime soap “Central Park West” had little appeal to anyone who doesn’t live on the block. The 9 p.m. show debuted with a 7.5/12, holding only 75% of its lead-in. The biggest problem may have been Fox’s two-hour “90210,” which built from that opening half-hour to finish with an 11.8/19, winning the second-half hour and clearly cutting into “CPW” and ABC’s “Grace Under Fire” (14.5/23) and “Naked Truth” (12.7/20). Although “Grace” looked sluggish, ABC can take comfort from the fact that “Naked” held 88% of its lead-in.

Restoring order

CBS bounced back a bit in the three-network race at 10 p.m., as a “Law & Order” re-run (6.5/11), gave “Courthouse” (9.2/16) a chance to belly up to the bar. (ABC’s “Primetime Live” dominated the hour with its 13.3/23.)

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