New dramas in primetime's final hour aren't attracting young viewers

If the broadcast networks are interested in lowering their median ages, a good place to start would be in addressing the 10 o’clock hour.

It’s in the final hour of primetime — when the youngest-skewing networks Fox and CW don’t program, and most of cable’s hottest programming airs — that the Big Three have sprouted too many gray hairs. And the trend accelerated this fall.

Every new show on ABC, CBS and NBC opened to a median age above 50 — ranging from NBC’s “Chase” (where roughly half its audience was 52 or older) to CBS’ “Blue Bloods” (median age of 60). And the hour already included older-skewing returning shows like CBS’ “The Good Wife” (which opened to a 58 median age) and “The Mentalist” (57).

The 10 o’clock hour was once home to some of TV’s top-rated shows, including the more recent likes of “ER,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI: Miami.” But last season, only CBS’ “The Mentalist” finished among the top 20 programs in 18-49.

And this season, the top 18-49 same-night score was the 3.9 that CBS newcomer “Hawaii Five-0″ bowed to on opening night.

Instead, auds are splintered more than ever from 10 to 11 p.m., with cable commanding a bigger chunk, thanks to sports, dramas and popular reality programs. And, of course, DVRs are in especially heavy playback mode at this time, as auds catch up on shows from earlier in the evening.

Even during the opening two weeks of the season, when broadcast is supposedly at the top of its game, cable had some notable perfs. MTV’s “Jersey Shore” won its Thursday 10 p.m. hour among adults 18-49; the same net’s “Teen Mom” eked out more viewers under 50 than the 10 p.m. broadcast dramas on Tuesday; and on the same night, FX drama “Sons of Anarchy” beat out the Big Three in key male demos.

The broadcasters have to realize that playing it safe (more legal and crime shows when there’s already a surplus) won’t bring new viewers to the hour and instead will only attract “default” (read: old) viewers. The titles alone (“The Whole Truth,” “Chase,” “The Defenders”) probably had the 18-34 crowd nodding off.

Something will lure younger viewers back to the Big Three at 10 p.m., but it doesn’t appear to be coming this year.

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