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‘Six Feet Under’ now half-hour ahead

Ratings plummet on new HBO series

HBO’s highly touted new series “Six Feet Under” plummeted in the ratings by a dizzying 30% from Sunday, June 3, its premiere week, to June 10, causing the network to engineer a lightning-quick time-period shift.

Instead of running behind the weaker “Arliss” half-hour, now in its sixth season on HBO, the hourlong “Six Feet” will move up from 10 to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday so that its lead-in is “Sex and the City,” which has gotten off to the best Nielsen start in its history. “Arliss,” formerly in the 9:30 slot, will somersault back to 10:30.

“HBO looks on ‘Arliss’ as a utility player,” says Michael Tollin, one of the executive producers of “Arliss” and a co-creator of the show with Brian Robbins. “We have a core audience that always finds ‘Arliss’ no matter where HBO puts it.”

Femme intuition

HBO’s rationale for flip-flopping the two shows is that “Sex and the City” harvests a massive audience of women, many of whom couldn’t care less about the male-appeal “Arliss,” which deals with a sports agent who constantly bends the rules to get lucrative deals for the athletes he represents.

By contrast, “Six Feet Under,” written and co-exec produced by Alan Ball (who won an Oscar for his original screenplay of “American Beauty”), has a number of strong female characters, which should give the show a better rating among women than “Arliss.” “Six Feet” is a black comedy about a dysfunctional family that owns a funeral parlor.

HBO moved fast — so fast that TV Guide and most Sunday TV supplements won’t reflect the lineup change — when it saw the June 10 ratings. At 9, “Sex and the City” averaged a humongous 11.2 rating in HBO homes. “Arliss” at 9:30 failed to take advantage of the lead-in, falling to an 8.0 rating. “Six Feet” at 10 managed only a 7.8 rating, a severe drop from the 11.2 rating it had chalked up on June 3, behind a special two-episode premiere of “Sex and the City.”

Tollin says his hope is that “Six Feet” will hold on to the “Sex & the City” ratings so that when “Arliss” kicks in at 10:30 it’ll deliver better numbers than at 9:30 because “Six Feet” will average more male viewers than “Sex & the City.”

Including the June 17 episode, “Arliss” will feature original episodes for the next nine weeks.

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