Sophomore series doing well on Fridays

The NFL season has come to a close, but the Dillon Panthers will play on — at least for one more week.

The fictional high school football team at the center of NBC’s critical darling “Friday Night Lights” would like to stay on the field a lot longer, actually. That decision, though, is likely still months away.

The show hasn’t exactly lit up the Nielsen scoreboard in its second season, but it hasn’t been sacked for a loss either. And “Friday Night Lights” has a few things going for it — including the ongoing writers strike — that just may improve its chances for renewal.

“Friday” is one of a handful of young ratings-challenged series trying to take advantage of a lack of firstrun scripted competition thanks to the work stoppage. This month will also see a pair of CBS shows, “Jericho” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” returning to the sked opposite reality or repeats.

For “Friday Night Lights,” a shift from Wednesday to Friday in its second season certainly eased some of the pressure. No longer taking the field opposite heavy-hitters like “American Idol,” it has been competitive among the coveted 18-49ers in its new timeslot while it wins among the 18-34 crowd.

But while NBC was clearly hoping to attract new viewers looking for something fresh on a tired night, that hasn’t happened. The show remains a modest performer (6.2 million viewers vs. 5.9 million a year ago), ranking among the least-watched series on the Big Four.

A closer look at the numbers, though, suggests that NBC shouldn’t be quick to blow the whistle on this one.

First off, it’s the youngest-skewing show on Friday (median age of around 48), a night that skews older for the Big Four with each year.

But it has become pretty clear after no real move of the Nielsen needle during the writers strike that young viewers simply do not feel compelled to plop down on their couch to watch this show at 9 o’clock on Friday night — certainly not enough of them to make it a hit.

Not surprisingly, the show is a big hit among DVR owners. Nielsen reports that among all primetime broadcast series, “Friday Night Lights” sees the third biggest jump in its “live” audience vs. its “live plus 7-day” (DVR playback within a week) — a whopping 38%. Only the net’s “The Office” and “Heroes” grow more.

It’s also the most upscale-skewing drama on the broadcast networks (among adults 18-49 living in homes with $100,000-plus incomes), behind only NBC’s “The Office” and “30 Rock.” This helps in the sales department, allowing the network to command a decent premium for a show that’s relatively inexpensive to produce.

Put this all together and it’s pretty obvious that the show deserves one last good shot at succeeding. But it will need some help from its network.

NBC, mired in fourth place for a few years but showing signs of life during the strike thanks to some hit reality shows, hasn’t shown a great deal of support for the show.

In fact, when the network had its biggest promotional platform of the season — 25.7 million for its lone NFL playoff game in early January — it opted not to tub-thump “Friday Night Lights.” In fact, the show didn’t merit a single promo or even a throwaway mention from Al Michaels or John Madden.

Perhaps that’s part of a larger strategy this season to cut down on the amount of football action on the show, but it’s a real head-scratcher nonetheless.

Looking ahead, the writers strike could be a blessing for “Friday” and other borderline performers, since the networks have been unable to develop and produce pilots for new series and may opt for more segs of current series.

NBC should make a bold play call for fall and schedule “Friday Night Lights” on Monday behind “Heroes,” its hottest and youngest-skewing drama. It did pretty well in a one-time tryout there in its first season, and could really benefit from a consistently strong and more compatible lead-in.

This is valuable real estate on the NBC schedule, to be sure, but the Peacock’s marketing team would have an opportunity to promote a pair of quality shows with considerable male appeal during “Sunday Night Football” in the fall.

At least NBC could say it gave “Friday” a shot. And if it doesn’t score with more viewers and blossom into a hit under this scenario, even its biggest supporters couldn’t argue if the net opted to punt.

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