Although the maneuvers had seemed suspiciously like panicked programmers rearranging dramas on the Titanic, the networks righted several sinking ships with their reshuffled lineups last week.
When CBS decided to move one Thursday drama to Monday, one Monday drama to Wednesday and one Wednesday newsmagazine to Thursday, while ABC was moving a Monday newsmag to Thursday and a Thursday newsmag to Wednesday and Fox was shuffling a Monday drama to Wednesday and a Wednesday drama to Monday, it sounded less like innovative scheduling and more like Abbott and Costello:
“Who’s on Monday?”
“I don’t know?”
But with the help of a few new programs – starring old faces – CBS significantly strengthened its Monday lineup, and gave Wednesday a boost without doing any real damage to its (already weak) Thursday schedule. ABC jump-started its Wednesday 10 p.m. slot, and Fox’s moves gave new leases on life to two struggling newcomers (Fox introduced its new Sunday lineup after presstime). Unfortunately for the networks, one good week does not a season make.
On Jan. 2, while many of the nation’s men were tuned to ABC’s bowl games, CBS got its new female-oriented Monday lineup off to a strong start. While it doesn’t have the potency of several years back, when anchor “Murphy Brown” was in its ratings prime, the web did draw a solid 14.9 rating and 22 share for the night.
At 9:30, the replacement show “Cybill” was up to the comedy block’s standards, garnering a strong 15.2/22 – the three CBS sitcoms leading up to it scored 15.9/23 (“The Nanny”), 15.8/23 (“Dave’s World”) and 15.3/22 (“Brown”).
These programs did get off easy, however, since ABC’s schedule was more male-oriented than usual. At 10 p.m., Thursday-night refugee “Chicago Hope” performed solidly with a 13.5/21. That’s half a rating point higher than what “Northern Exposure” had been averaging there, and 2.7 rating points above “Hope’s” Thursday figures. Ironically, however, it was bested by the doctors it was fleeing: NBC’s “ER,” a two-hour repeat special, attracted a 15.4/25 in the 10-11 hour. Despite this wound, “Hope” should recover quickly, since NBC’s Monday showing and ABC’s Sugar Bowl numbers were both slightly higher than what the webs will draw in coming weeks.
CBS was also happy with the situation in Washington. Or perhaps the situation comedy in fictional Washington would be more accurate: The one-hour premiere of “Women of the House,” the new Delta Burke comedy set in Congress, grabbed a healthy 11.8/18 in its debut at 8 p.m. on Jan. 4. That may not seem like the stuff of which megahits are made, but compared to predecessors like “The Boys are Back” (8.8/14) and everything else CBS has thrown to the lions in that time period in recent years, “Women’s” figures were particularly robust. The show won the 8 p.m. time period and finished within half a point of first in its second half-hour, against a special (albeit repeat) episode of ABC’s “Grace Under Fire.”
The second-best news of all on Wednesday night belonged to ABC: After being beaten up by “ER,” “PrimeTime Live” came back to life on its new night last week. The former hit show had sunk to a 9.9/17 average this season, but it jumped by 50% on Wednesday to a time-period-winning 14.9/25 (taking all the key demos as well).
The only worrisome item was its unseemly drop-off in the second half-hour, when it lost 1.4 rating points.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
Newer dramas “Models, Inc.” and “Party of Five” can’t keep up with the big guns of “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills, 90210″ yet, but Fox has shown a willingness to be patient if a series has potential (it paid off big with the latter two shows).
Although “Models” and “Party” still failed to hold their lead-ins in their new time periods – the former went from Wednesday at 9 to Monday at 9, the latter went from Monday to Wednesday – they both attracted enough interest to keep the shine on their future for a while longer.
“Models,” which had been earning a 7.1/11 on Wednesdays, drew only a 6.4/9 on Monday. But that was done with a smaller lead-in (although it held only 64% of its lead-in) and was actually a 16% improvement over what “Party of Five” had been averaging there.
“Party of Five” also lost too many viewers – it held only 61% of its lead-in, but the show’s 7.1/10 matched what “Models” had been earning there and represented a 29% jump over its own Monday average.
At ABC, “Day One,” the former denizen of the Monday 8 p.m. slot, returned to the lineup on Thursday, Jan. 5, at 10 p.m. with mixed results. The newsmag’s rating of 11.6/19 in overnight markets was a distant second to reigning champ “ER,” but was still better than what “Primetime Live” had produced in that slot and what the other new arrival, CBS’ “48 Hours,” could manage.
The Eye web gave America an eyeful of newsmags on Jan. 5 and viewers averted their gaze. “Eye to Eye With Connie Chung,” which had produced modest numbers at 9 p.m. before being slaughtered by “ER” at 10 p.m., shifted back to 9 p.m. with unspectacular results. A heavily publicized interview with Newt Gingrich’s mother (in which Chung enticed Mrs. Gingrich into divulging a choice bit of gossip) did not garner impressive ratings. The show’s 10.4/14 overnight rating barely edged ABC’s “Matlock” for second place.
CBS fared even worse at 10 p.m. with “48 Hours,” which had been pushed back 24 hours from Wednesday – where it had lost its viewers to “Turning Point” and seemed vulnerable to “Primetime”. The show mustered only a 9.0/13 overnight, a distant third place.
The bad news for CBS is that the slot “48 Hours” left behind is still in bad shape. “Northern Exposure,” suffering erosion on Mondays for a year and a half, switched to Wednesday and discovered its viewers stayed behind. The series, averaging a 12.8/21 this year, plunged to a dismal 9.7/16, well behind second-place “Law & Order.”
Of course, one reason for the drop-off is that “Exposure” always benefited from a strong lead-in. But after “Women of the House,” the rest of CBS’ Wednesday night went downhill. “Double Rush,” another new sitcom, earned only an 8.6/13, a 26% drop from its lead-in. Although it performed as well as “Touched By an Angel” had before it, “Angel” ended up in TV heaven. (And “Angel” posted those mediocre figures for a full hour; “Love & War,” the 8:30 sitcom, plummeted to a 7.3/11.)
Only one network, NBC, stayed away from the series shuffle – for the most part. The web did try out one old Saturday failure on Monday night last week… and nobody noticed. “Mommies” earned a 7.2/10, good for fourth place.