Buyers eye TNT ‘ER’ plan

Say Peacock could get hurt in ratings

TNT’s surprising decision to schedule three rerun episodes of “ER” every Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m. beginning this fall could end up weakening the ratings for the firstrun hour on NBC, according to media buyers.

“NBC has got to be fuming — and climbing the walls,” said Howard Nass, senior VP of media-buying firm True North. “The show will be horribly overexposed, and ‘ER’ could get hurt in the Nielsens on NBC.”

Paul Schulman, head of his own media-buying firm, said, “The original episodes of ‘ER’ will be less special” because of the Thursday scheduling by TNT, which will also run episodes every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m.

“If you’re an ‘ER’ fan and you’ve watched the Thursday episodes on TNT,” said Bill Croasdale, president of network broadcasting for Western Intl. Media, “you’ll be ‘ER’-ed out by the time 10 o’clock rolls around.”

An NBC spokesman declined to comment, but it was unclear whether Time Warner, which owns both “ER” and TNT, informed NBC of the Thursday TNT schedule when TW negotiated a three-year renewal with NBC two months ago for a record license fee of $13 million an episode. (Programming executives of TNT couldn’t be reached for comment.)

The consensus along Madison Avenue is that TNT will get a boost from “ER,” particularly on Thursday. Gene De Witt, head of his own media-buying firm, said, “It’s smart scheduling, because it’ll promote appointment viewing on cable.”

True North’s Nass says TNT may be jockeying to take advantage of a decline in NBC’s 8-to-10 sitcom ratings in the wake of the disappearance of “Seinfeld” from the NBC schedule. “The burden on NBC next fall,” Nass said, “will be to come up with strong sitcoms on Thursday to continue giving ‘ER’ a big lead-in.”

If NBC fails to deliver comedies with the same appeal as “Seinfeld” during the 1998-99 season, TNT could harvest a big primetime rating on Thursday from the “ER” junkies who’ll be ecstatic over getting TNT reruns as appetizers for the original-episode main course on NBC at 10.

The argument about whether cable or syndicated reruns hurt the ratings of original network-primetime runs is not new. Cable researchers say the heavy re-runnning of such series as “Law & Order” on A&E and “Wings” on USA generated so much cross-promotion that they actually gave both shows a fresh lease on life in the Nielsens.

“But the broadcast-rating base of both ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Wings’ was much lower than ‘ER,’ ” says Jonathan Swallen, head of media research for Ogilvy & Mather, who added ” ‘ER’ is pretty close to its natural ceiling” in the Nielsens.

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