Long a Sunday night hot spot, HBO is hoping that viewers will now start making regular Monday night appointments with the pay cabler.
Fifth and final season of “Six Feet Under” will shift to Monday nights when it returns to the sked in June. If the move is successful it will open the door to a solid second night of original programming for the first time on HBO.
With “The Sopranos” and “Sex” virtually taking over Sunday during their runs, pay cabler’s dramas have dominated the night — and the buzz — for several years. Strategy faltered recently with “Carnivale,” which currently goes up against ABC behemoth “Desperate Housewives.” Last new episode of the Dust Bowl drama averaged just 1.7 million viewers — well below the tally for HBO’s other hourlongs.
A second night might become all the more imperative if “Deadwood,” which bows a new season March 6, also stumbles against “Housewives.”
Paybox hasn’t tinkered with its Sunday night strategy since the days of “The Larry Sanders Show,” last on the air in 1998.
“We’d always toyed with the idea of trying out other nights if we had the inventory to expand, which we haven’t,” said HBO scheduling chief David Baldwin. “We’ve been a weekend-based service since our inception and haven’t achieved much success when we premiered shows during the week.”
But Baldwin dismisses the idea that HBO is trying out Monday to avoid the femme-centered sudser.
“We’re much more interested in our gross audience — the sum of a week’s worth of plays — than in premiere night ratings to begin with,” Baldwin said, calling the move an “interesting experiment.”
“It’s not something we would have wanted to test in the fall against all the new first-run shows, not to mention ‘Monday Night Football.’ ”
Exec suspects that a significant number of people use HBO On Demand, a service available in 20% of HBO homes, that allows viewers to watch programs any time they want. But Nielsen doesn’t measure the service.HBO has reserved Sunday nights beginning June for “The Comeback,” a comedy half-hour from Lisa Kudrow and “Sex and the City” exec producer Michael Patrick King, to be followed by the sophomore season of “Entourage.” “Six Feet” will also repeat Sundays at 10 p.m. following “Entourage,” in addition to the range of plays all of HBO’s programs receive throughout the week.
A successful Monday showing by the mortuary drama will allow the cabler to debut new episodes of series outside of the crowded Sunday night.
Growing slate of originals include upcoming “Rome,” a period epic slated for the fall; “Big Love,” a comedy hour for 2006 featuring Bill Paxton as a polygamist with three wives; another season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”; and possibly another cycle of “The Wire.”
“Sunday is where we put our varsity players. We’re hoping ‘Comeback’ and ‘Entourage’ grow into our next set of varsity shows,” Baldwin said, adding that he’s confident that the loyal following of “Six Feet” will make the move for the show’s last season.