10 o’clock is starting to snooze

Big Three dramas in timeslot are down vs. last year

“TV is King,” Entertainment Weekly proclaimed last week, and who could argue with that?

On the most heavily watched nights, there’s hardly an hour where there aren’t two, three or more programs worthy of viewers’ attention.

But on the broadcast side, other than ABC’s Sunday smash “Grey’s Anatomy,” the 10 o’clock hour has grown a bit stale. A time period dominated by franchise crime, law and medical dramas could use some new blood to attract younger viewers.

All seven of the 10 p.m. dramas airing Monday through Thursday on the Big Three are down vs. last year in adults 18-49, with NBC’s “ER” and “Medium” tumbling the most at nearly 30%, Nielsen says.

The other staples of the hour, ABC newsmags “Primetime” and “20/20,” are faring OK relative to their weak averages of a year ago, but that still leaves them down 20% from two years ago.

Basic cable, meanwhile, has made its biggest inroads in recent years by targeting the 10 o’clock hour, zigging where the nets are zagging with young-skewing shows like Comedy Central’s “South Park,” MTV’s “Real World” and Bravo’s “Project Runway.”

One of the reasons the 10 o’clock hour has sagged while earlier hours are hopping is Fox. The hot net programs nightly only until 10, meaning hits like “American Idol,” “House” and “24” are in direct competish with other top broadcast series.

Also, the Big Three want to use their smash hits to funnel viewers into new shows, thus the skedding of “CSI,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” at 9 o’clock.

Even though the current weeknight 10 o’clock dramas have seen their best days, shaking up the sked poses a risk for the nets, whose affils need good ratings there as a lead-in to the late local news.

Struggling NBC gambled last month by shifting fading vet “Law & Order” to 9 p.m. to make room for serialized drama “Heist” at 10.

Switch hasn’t produced good ratings (“Law” ran fourth at 9 and “Heist” is doing so-so) but “Law” isn’t going to grow its ratings in its 16th season, and this was the net’s best shot at improving its standing at 10.

Look for NBC to try this next season as well, as it seeks timeslots for high-concept adult fare like “Kidnapped” and “The Black Donnellys.”

One option to boost ratings at 10 is more reality shows. The only drawback here is that the highest-rated ones, like “American Idol” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition attract a sizable family aud that’s harder to reach at 10.

CBS’ “Amazing Race,” which blossomed into a hit last year in the 9 o’clock hour, isn’t as impressive at 10 this spring, and ABC’s 10 o’clock tear-jerker “Miracle Workers” similarly feels out of place so late, and would have performed better in an earlier time period.

Not surprisingly, ABC’s decidedly adult dating show “The Bachelor” is one of the few reality shows to work at 10, rallying for one of its stronger seasons this year.

ABC gets a chance to see how a pair of non-traditional dramas — the new “What About Brian” and transplanted “Commander in Chief” — fare at 10 when they bow this month on Monday and Thursday, respectively.

The Alphabet could sked megahit “Grey’s Anatomy” at 10 on a weeknight next season, although a new 9 o’clock slot would give the net a chance to put something behind it.

CBS too, could shift Thursday’s “Without a Trace” to another night to take advantage of the still-socko “CSI” at 9, which would provide a huge lead-in for a new Eye drama.

Risky moves for sure, but ones that could pay off nicely if an established show can help seed a hot newbie in a critical slot.

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