Broadcasters lose traction amid cable onslaught

“Revenge” had some big shoes to fill when it replaced “Desperate Housewives” as the anchor show of ABC’s Sunday lineup, but so far the timeslot has been a good fit.

Through six weeks, the Hamptons-set serial has drawn the same number of young adults (about 4.6 million) as the iconic series it replaced. And while ABC may have hoped for more — “DH” was well past its glory days by its final season — such hopes were probably unrealistic.

In fact, it may just be that when “Desperate Housewives” exited the airwaves, so too went the broadcast networks’ last big 9 p.m. Sunday drama. The Alphabet series dominated its time period for about five seasons, but over the last couple of years, cable has begun to swarm the slot like ants at a summer picnic.

On the first Sunday in November, ABC’s “Revenge” was the No. 2 entertainment series in Sunday’s 9 o’clock hour among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen, with a 2.7 rating. AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the highest-rated basic cable drama in history, led the time period with a 4.9.

But there was also CBS’ “The Good Wife” (1.7), Showtime’s “Dexter” (1.0) and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” (0.7). Add them all up, and that’s an 11.0 rating in the demo for dramas alone.

Also stealing away potential auds from any broadcast drama in the hour are reality shows like Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta” (1.6) and TLC’s “Long Island Medium” (1.1).

And of course, the night’s biggest drama, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” is primetime’s No. 1 program (8.5 in the hour).

The 9 o’clock hour had been the domain of TV movies on the Big Three through most of the ’80s and ’90s; ABC abandoned its movie in 1998, NBC followed in 2001, and CBS finally bailed in 2006.

And while these movies often did solid numbers, the sameness of the genre left an opening for a unique original series that was filled first by Fox’s “The X Files” and then by HBO’s “The Sopranos.”

The Big Three did OK in the hour with the likes of “Alias” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” but it wasn’t until “Desperate Housewives” in 2004 that anything caught fire.

A lot has changed since then.

If 9 p.m. is difficult, 10 p.m. is worse. TV movies, sports and reality contests may build to a climax late, but dramas fight the gravitational pull of sleep before the start of a new week.

The 10 p.m. hour is where CBS has put its fading crime dramas out to pasture (“Without a Trace,” “CSI: Miami” and now “The Mentalist”). And the Alphabet, which did OK here for a while when “Desperate Housewives” was hot, has been unable to do much with either last year’s “Pan Am” or this fall’s “666 Park Avenue” — two shows that, in hindsight, probably should have gotten a shot elsewhere.

So “Desperate” or not, the broadcast nets may have seen the last of the dominant Sunday drama.

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