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Nets draw fall battle lines

Tuesday nights likely will be ground zero with sked shifts

The suicidal tendencies of network programmers will be on full display come Tuesday nights this fall.

You’d think webheads would have learned their lesson by now: The quickest path to ratings success usually lies in zigging when your opponents are zagging — in a word, counterprogramming.

Instead, the Big Six boast Tuesday skeds full of matchups pitting remarkably similar shows against each other:

  • At 8 o’clock, three of the four major nets will air comedies — the first time this has happened on Tuesday. While Fox’s younger-skewing “That ’70s Show” and “Undeclared” skew pretty young, NBC and ABC are both aiming for middle-aged femmes.

  • The 9 p.m. slot features two of the year’s most closely watched races.

    On the comedy front, ABC’s Jason Alexander starrer “Bob Patterson” is taking on NBC’s veteran “Frasier.” And on the drama side, Fox’s much-touted “24” will compete against the WB’s pricey Superman update (“Smallville”) and the new-to-UPN sci-fi actioner “Roswell.”

  • The competish continues at 10 p.m. with ABC newcomer “Philly” taking on the Eye’s established “Judging Amy.” Not only do both skeins focus on dark-haired female legal eagles, but each also stars a former cast member of “NYPD Blue.”

All of these battles are taking place in a less-than-stable programming environment. Of the 20 Tuesday shows on the six nets, eight are new, five have switched timeslots and two have jumped networks.

There’s also plenty at stake financially.

Several of the night’s key players — “Frasier,” “Dharma & Greg,” “Buffy”– are veteran series that, thanks to recent contract renegotiations, cost a whole lot more than they did last season. A ratings dip this season would mean an even larger revenue hit for each show’s respective web.

And beyond specific program showdowns, individual networks have much to win or lose as well.

Fox, for example, has moved two established successes (“Titus” and “Dark Angel”) from Tuesday nights in order to make room for its two hottest newcomers (“Undeclared” and “24.”)

While “Undeclared” won’t have much competition for its target aud of young guys, “24” needs to bring in enough of Fox’s core audience (men 12-34) while also appealing to adult females. Latter demo will be torn between high-profile offerings on ABC, CBS and NBC.

What’s more, four of the serialized show’s first five hours will also air during the November sweep — a tough way to gain footing in an already brutal time period. “Smallville” and “Roswell” will provide competish for viewers 18-34, while CBS will try to grab the 25-54 set with newcomer “The Guardian.”

Fox execs argue they had no choice but to roll the dice.

“You walk in the door at Fox and they give you the handbook that says, ‘No risk, no reward,’ ” says Fox exec VP David Nevins. “Tuesday is our ‘no risk, no reward’ night this year.”

ABC and NBC, meanwhile, will duke it out in what one rival exec calls “the sitcom war.” Right now, the battle looks to be something of a draw.

The Alphabet web is favored at 8 p.m., thanks to the move of “Dharma & Greg” into an earlier slot. Its slot rival — NBC’s already critically lambasted “Emeril” — should be cooked by Thanksgiving.

Peacock stands to do better from 9 to 10 p.m. with “Frasier” and frosh laffer “Scrubs.”

Dr. Crane & Co. are still a force to be reckoned with, despite the firepower Alexander is providing ABC. And while “Scrubs” may not be the ideal leadout for “Frasier,” the show’s getting some early critical buzz. Plus, no other laffer has dominated at 9:30 p.m. for several years.

Still, with “24” not bowing until week seven, ABC’s “Bob Patterson” could stake out a younger, more male aud (the Fox crowd), while “Frasier” skews older and more female. “Spin City,” though probably in its last season, usually manages a respectable perf wherever ABC skeds it.

In the end, NBC and ABC will probably fight to something of a draw for the lead in adults 18-49 from 8-10 p.m. — at least for the first few weeks of the season.

As for the 10 p.m. smackdown of the tough females, Kim Delaney starrer “Philly” should open well for ABC. Early on, it could win a heavily femme hour — opposite “Judging Amy” and “Dateline NBC” — among men and adults 18-34.

Further down the road, some question ABC’s decision to sked “Philly” opposite the Eye’s more established “Amy,” particularly since the move means taking timeslot vet “NYPD Blue” out of its established berth.

Now, “Amy” is the slot’s incumbent drama. What’s more, the CBS hour figures to get a boost from lead-in “The Guardian,” helping “Amy” win the hour in total viewers, driven by its strong showing among women over 35.

Multiple winners

As bloody as Tuesday figures to be, there’s a chance multiple winners could emerge.

Thanks to its relatively stable lineup, CBS has a good shot of moving ahead of ABC to win among total viewers, with Fox and ABC in a battle for the 18-49 lead; Fox will remain on top in 18-34 and teens, with all four major nets likely finishing within 2 shares in adults 25-54.

As many network insiders point out, in an era where complete domination of any given timeslot is rare, carving out one or two solid niches can be a not-so-shabby consolation prize.

“It’s no longer a winner-take-all environment,” Nevins says. “It’s been proven that you can pit a ‘Frasier’ opposite a ‘Home Improvement’ and they can both work. There’s room for more than one network to succeed.”

One thing is almost certain: Almost every web will try to spin itself the Tuesday winner come fall.

“You can expect to see a lot of press releases Wednesday morning from networks claiming victory on Tuesday,” one grizzled webhead says.

Official 2001-2002 Primetime Schedule

for Tuesday

ABC

CBS

NBC

FOX

WB

UPN

8:00
Dharma & Greg

JAG

Emeril

That ’70s Show

Gilmore Girls

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

8:30
What About Joan

Three Sisters

Undeclared

9:00
Bob Patterson

The Guardian

Frasier

24

Smallville

Roswell

9:30
Spin City

Scrubs

10:00
Philly

Judging Amy

Dateline NBC

10:30
 
2001-2002 Projections
Overall Viewers:

/

Adults 18-49:

/

Adults 25-54:

Photo finish!

Adults 18-34:

Teens:

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