Stragglers should get a reprieve

Programmers may be more patient this season

HOLLYWOOD — It’s early in the season but, according to some pundits, a slew of primetime programs are already on the chopping blocks.

NBC’s “Emeril,” CBS’ “Wolf Lake” and ABC’s “The Mole II” each crawled out of the gate this fall and are among the series most often included in “least likely to succeed” or “already doomed” columns.

But there are also good reasons why all should — and likely will — stay on the sked a while.

In general, programmers figure to be more patient this season — especially with fewer programs on the midseason shelf and today’s economic realities making more attractive the idea of airing something you’ve already paid for.

Plus, viewing patterns are likely still out of whack following last month’s terrorist attacks, and some shows could benefit from some TLC.

‘Mole’ may come out of hole

“The Mole II” got off to a stunningly weak start in its first outing (5.49 million viewers, 2.2/8 in 18-49), but the potential exists for substantial ratings growth.

ABC has been high on the unscripted skein ever since last season’s edition produced some of the net’s biggest 18-34 demo ratings. Slow start might be attributed to its 8 o’clock Friday slot (much of its target aud is not watching TV at the time), but it also could be the victim of a totally revamped Alphabet Friday sked — one that many of “The Mole’s” younger fans still may not know about.

Helping matters is that Friday’s leadoff hour is not being dominated by any single show. “Providence” is the defending demo leader, but even its premiere-week score (3.4/12) was only 4 shares better than the weak “Mole II” bow.

At CBS, supernatural thriller “Wolf Lake” is certainly overmatched by “Law & Order” in Wednesday’s 10 p.m. hour, but it’s the only kind of show — younger-skewing, small-town appeal — the Eye could program against a juggernaut that dominates among the 25-54 crowd in big cities.

After a decent bow on Sept. 12 (8.7 million, 3.4 rating/8 share in adults 18-49), the next two episodes of “Wolf” declined in each of these broad categories, but actually went up both times among viewers 12-34. Since this young crowd is hardly the usual Eye audience, it stands to reason that younger viewers would be slow to join the “Wolf” pack.

And compared with what CBS aired in the hour last season (mostly older-skewing telefilms), the net is up slightly in the key 18-49 demo. Teamed with reality series “Amazing Race” (opposite “The West Wing” at 9), it gives the net a rare chance to go for a younger aud than one of its rivals.

And then there’s “Emeril,” the NBC Tuesday laffer starring chef Emeril Lagasse as himself. Again, there are some good reasons why an opening-week fourth-place finish (8.7 million viewers, 3.5/10 in adults 18-49) shouldn’t cook its goose.

First, though NBC was certainly hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with the effervescent Lagasse in an unconventional premise, expectations were never high for “Emeril.” It also airs in what’s been the weakest hour on NBC’s sked in recent years and is up against two vet laffers, Fox’s “That ’70s Show” (the slot leader) and ABC’s “Dharma & Greg.”

Sure, the ratings haven’t been great, but when self-starter “Frasier” and “Scrubs” can win at 9 o’clock for NBC and keep the net on top for the night in key demos, there’s reason for Peacock patience in the leadoff hour.

Also, by week two, when ABC’s “Dharma & Greg” plunged in the ratings and “Emeril” fell off only modestly, NBC — although still last among the major nets in the slot — found itself in a much more competitive position.

NBC may also want to keep “Emeril” around for symbolic reasons. While many believed reality series “Spy TV” would have replaced “Emeril” by now, such a move would reduce the number of NBC laffers to seven — not a sign of strength for a net known for its comedy supremacy.

Here’s to letting “Emeril” simmer on the back burner for a while.

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