Picking hits lies in right sked mix

It's not always easy to find best lead-out for a smash hit

HOLLYWOOD — One of the biggest problems facing NBC as it attempts to climb out of the cellar this fall is that it has so few platforms from which to launch hits.

This is not the case at the other nets, however, as each of them has effectively used their high-rated programs — from “Desperate Housewives” and “American Idol” — to funnel viewers into promising new shows.

Still, it’s not always easy to find the right lead-out for a smash hit. It took CBS four tries, for example, before it planted “Without a Trace” to follow “CSI,” and Fox tried a handful of shows behind “Idol” until “House” clicked.

This fall, ABC will try to take better advantage of its breakout hit “Lost,” while on a smaller scale, Fox will again look for something behind “The OC,” and UPN will try to take advantage of “America’s Next Top Model.”

Perhaps the best example of building a sked piece by piece is what CBS has done on Thursday. Once it established “Survivor” as its anchor in 2001, the Eye quickly paired it with hot drama “CSI” to form a powerhouse block.

But the post-“CSI” hour remained problematic, as none of the shows it tried — “48 Hours” and the dramas “The Agency” and “Big Apple” — could hold on to more than 40% of its “CSI” lead-in.

Net then went with the more thematically compatible “Without a Trace” (like “CSI,” from Jerry Bruckheimer), and it has grown into a hit, initially holding about 50% of its lead-in and recently topping 60%.

Last season, Fox found the ideal show to follow “American Idol” on Tuesday in medical mystery “House,” which had generated some buzz but tepid ratings prior to having “Idol” as a skedmate.

In the May sweep, “House” held about 70% of the “Idol” aud — much better than other shows, including “24” and “The OC,” that followed the megahit in previous years.

Once ABC realized it had a big hit with “Desperate Housewives” last fall, it could no longer settle for the mediocre ratings behind it with “Boston Legal,” which was holding less than half of the “DH” lead-in most weeks.

Enter “Grey’s Anatomy,” which grew throughout its season-ending run and topped 70% retention. Although an entirely different show, “Grey’s” is tonally similar to “Housewives,” and it’s not surprising that ABC is sticking with this combo next season.

Looking ahead to fall, the Alphabet will try to do better Wednesdays in the hour behind “Lost,” which shifts to 9 o’clock. Last season saw “Alias” retain an unsatisfactory 55%-60% of its “Lost” lead-in, and the net’s momentum on the night faded.

If new sci-fi drama “Invasion” can hold about two-thirds of “Lost,” it figures to challenge for the timeslot lead at 10 opposite “CSI: NY” and “Law & Order.”

Also on Wednesday, UPN will try to improve in the post-“Top Model” hour, where “Kevin Hill” held a disappointing 42% of its 18-34 lead-in. It will be tough for “Veronica Mars” to top 50%, but the sked switch from Tuesday gives the cult fave its best chance to break out.

And Fox will be trying again to hold on to more of its “OC” aud on Thursday, after “North Shore,” “Point Pleasant” and “Tru Calling” retained an average 55% of the sudser’s 18-49 average.

This fall, Fox turns to “Reunion,” a unique drama that looks at the lives of a group of friends in the 20 years following high school graduation (with each episode repping one year).

A great idea whose pilot is well-executed, “Reunion” could hold 75% or more of its “OC” lead-in and put Fox in its most competitive Thursday position in years.

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