Alternative series thrive in night's opening hour

Fridays have been a tough nut to crack for the broadcast nets in recent years, and the night’s opening hour — when only about 30% of adults under 50 are watching television — has been especially problematic.

Last fall, CBS and NBC tried expensive scripted skeins “A Gifted Man” and “Chuck,” respectively, but have since gone in a different direction.

In fact, this winter, they have joined ABC and Fox in realizing that the best and most financially sound option for Fridays at 8 is unscripted or other alternative series. And if they are good, unique programs, the major nets don’t necessarily have to cannibalize each other.

The four shows are also self-contained, meaning viewers can miss weeks and still easily return — and in a lightly watched hour like Fridays at 8, that’s a real plus.

CBS’ “Undercover Boss,” the ratings leader in the hour after moving over from Sunday, opened very impressively last month, with its 2.4 rating in adults 18-49 the best for any Friday series in any week this season. The show’s numbers have dropped a little since, but it’s starting the night much stronger than former occupant “Gifted Man,” which averaged a 1.3 same-night rating from September through January.

ABC improved its standing when it chose to start the second season of entrepreneurial reality show “Shark Tank” on Fridays at 8, where it has averaged a 1.6 rating in 18-49 over its first seven weeks — up from the 1.2 for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” earlier this season.

Fox has averaged a 1.6 rating as well in the hour for “Kitchen Nightmares,” the Gordon Ramsay restaurant series that is a spinoff of other shows the chef has done for Fox, including “Hell’s Kitchen.”

NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” in which celebs trace their family roots, has averaged a 1.3 same-night 18-49 rating — often fourth in its slot, but stronger than “Chuck” (1.0).

On the first Friday of March, these four series (even with “Kitchen” in repeat) combined for a 6.2 rating/20 in adults 18-49 in the 8 o’clock hour — up from a 4.4/15 for the Big Four on the same night last year.

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