German webs wrangle U.S. shows

Teuton execs shuffle old the series and wait for the new

The most-watched U.S. series on German TV are “CSI: Miami” and “House,” which both air on ratings- leader RTL, but their reign is waning after years at the top of the charts and as new shows vie for viewers.

Local dramas on pubcaster ARD, such as “Um Himmels Willen,” about a group of nuns, usually top the charts and hold an edge over U.S. shows.

But Hollywood fare feeds the commercial broadcasters such as Sat.1, which has found a major Saturday-evening hit in “The Mentalist” and is set to beef up its share of U.S. shows this summer.

The Simon Baker starrer has seen audience numbers nearly double in its second season, attracting a record 4.22 million viewers in March. The show has benefited greatly from its lead-in, “NCIS,” long a favorite on Sat.1.

In view of its success, Sat.1 topper Andreas Bartl has introduced a second night showcasing “NCIS: Los Angeles” as well as a new season of “Criminal Minds.”

Sat.1 affiliate ProSieben, which focuses more on U.S. fare, is still enjoying strong ratings with the long-running “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Skewed at a younger demo, ProSieben has a roughly 6% overall market share compared with Sat.1’s 10% (of all viewers).

RTL holds about 12% of the market. “CSI: Miami” and “House” still lead on the web, but the latter has slipped steadily in recent weeks. It rebounded April 6 due to the start of the sixth season and the much-hyped appearance of German star Franka Potente, drawing 4.9 million viewers, well up on the 4.2 million who tuned in March 30.

While “House,” which follows “CSI: Miami” on Tuesdays, managed an impressive share of 24.8% in its key 14-49 demo — up from March averages of around 20% — it’s still a far cry from its onetime peak of 35%.

There may be a number of reasons for its slide. RTL breaks up the full season, showing part in the fall, part in spring and mixing in repeat episodes from the previous season — a common practice in the U.S. but rare in Germany.

This may have led to viewer confusion and disinterest, admits RTL spokesman Claus Richter — or the show may just be running its course among Teutonic auds.

Likewise, the original “CSI,” which airs on RTL on Thursdays ahead of “Bones,” has been losing even more steam, and programmers are considering a possible slot swap, with “Bones” as the new lead-in, says Richter.

Reflecting a consistant trend, “CSI” was the weakest performer April 8 despite a strong lead-in from local copshow “Alarm for Cobra 11,” drawing just over 2 million viewers in its target demo and a 15.4% share. Although it aired later, “Bones” attracted nearly the same amount of viewers and a much better 18.5% share.

Despite audience erosion, Richter says RTL will retain the lineup through 2010 but is likely to introduce a new show next year. The web is airing the final season of long-running hit “Monk” this year and is looking for a replacement, says Richter.

It could nab any number of series from its output deals, including Matthew Bomer starrer “White Collar,” “Royal Pains” or “Nurse Jackie.”

“Bones” appears set to become RTL’s next flag-bearer, unless interest in forensics shows continues to dwindle. Meanwhile, “Lie to Me” is increasingly popular on RTL affiliate Vox.

Pubcasters Arte and 3Sat, relatively small players, continue to look for original international programming. Arte is adding “Breaking Bad” to its lineup. Although the show previously aired on pay web AXN, a free TV run of the edgy series would have been unlikely without Arte. 3Sat is airing HBO’s “In Treatment” to disappointing ratings.

The new Hollywood shows can’t come fast enough.

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