Nets have struggled to launch shows in the month

As the calendar turns from March to April, the networks’ chances of finding a breakout hit this season would appear to have evaporated.

Several rookie shows have performed reasonably well this season — led by CBS’ “Mike and Molly” and “Hawaii Five-0″ — but none are Nielsen juggernauts. And don’t look for any late bloomers in April’s five newbies, as the Big Four are usually happy when shows bowing in this month perform even moderately well.

More so than any other month, April premieres have consistently pushed up daisies. Of the 15 broadcast series to open in April over the last five years, only NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and “Southland” in 2009 (the latter now on cable’s TNT) are still going — and both are hanging on more by critical acclaim than for their ratings.

Much like the late-winter weeks for the bigscreen, April has become a period for launches saddled with low expectations. And short of burning off these OK-but-not-great shows in the summer, the month offers the networks one last shot at getting them on air before the season ends in May.

Reasons for the April sours are many, including the start of Daylight Saving Time, which contributes to lower viewership levels across the dial. Then there are distractions like spring break and college basketball tournaments that disrupt viewing patterns.

It also doesn’t help that since February is a sweeps month, March is often riddled with repeats. And lacking a consistent flow of original fare in which to promote, networks are unable to muster a lot of awareness for their April preems.

An April launch is also relatively low risk because of its proximity to the end of the season. The networks often aren’t afraid to pull a dead-on-arrival April newcomer before the May sweep.

Each of the major nets has at least one April bow this season, with CBS up first April 1 with “Chaos.” While it’s true that the Eye doesn’t have a lot of open real estate on its sked, a Friday 8 p.m. launch — even if it’s accompanies by ample promotion during March Madness — doesn’t suggest much confidence in the CIA dramedy.

Recent Eye misfires in the month have included “Secret Talents of the Stars,” “Miami Medical” and “Harper’s Island.”

Fox, which has struck out in April of late with the likes of “Sit Down Shut Up” and “Drive,” bows laffer “Breaking In” on April 6. Though it will benefit from an “American Idol” lead-in, it doesn’t figure to fare much better than the net’s low-rated Tuesday comedies.

ABC follows a week later with comedy “Happy Endings,” which will bow at 9:30 following “Modern Family,” and then air regularly at 10. Of all the April preems, this one perhaps has the best shot at sticking — though ABC has had more April duds than anybody (think “Notes From the Underbelly,” “The Unusuals” and “Romantically Challenged.”)

Actually, ABC has had pretty good luck with March bows in recent years, primarily because it has chosen to save some of its best stuff for the weeks immediately after it airs the Academy Awards. And in the case of “Grey’s Anatomy” in March 2005, it also was able to air it behind “Desperate Housewives” at its peak.

“Castle” bowed in March 2009 and is doing well in its third season, and the net’s Sunday reality show “Secret Millionaire” has posted solid numbers since bowing March 6.

ABC also has the appealing Dana Delany starrer “Body of Proof” bowing March 29 (see reviews of “Body of Proof” and “Chaos,” page 25) — with the net avoiding the April curse by three days. (It also helps that “Body of Proof” will get a “Dancing With the Stars” lead-in).

On April 14, NBC will slide “The Paul Reiser Show” into the 8:30 p.m. Thursday slot currently occupied by “Perfect Couples.” It doesn’t figure to make much noise, but at least the Peacock can say to Reiser, who scored a big hit in the ’90s for the net with “Mad About You,” that it gave his latest the old college try.

NBC, whose recent April bombs include “Heist” and “Thank God You’re Here,” also has “The Voice,” airing Tuesdays beginning April 26. But will auds want to watch another singing contest when “American Idol” is still going strong? And can the Peacock mount any kind of awareness for the show at a time when its on-air circulation is at historical lows?

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