Networks hope to catch Friday fish

TV Ratings a challenge on unpopular night

Disney Channel’s “High School Musical 2” showed this summer that there’s at least still a kid and teen audience available on Friday night — but how about young adults?

As the broadcast nets look to stave off more ratings erosion overall, Friday is a good place to start. After all, a night that recently was home to top-tier hits like “Providence,” “CSI” and “Law & Order: SVU” has become a wasteland of sorts that’s only a notch or two above Saturday.

And while there’s a bit more energy to Fridays this fall, the new shows on the night would suggest there’s nothing all that exciting to see. There are, however, a pair of transplanted second-year shows — NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” and ABC’s “Men in Trees” — that will upgrade the night, in quality if not ratings.

Last season, CBS was the Friday leader in demos with “Ghost Whisperer” and “Numbers,” while NBC was a solid second with its combo of gameshows and dramas.

This fall, two new dramas — ABC’s “Women’s Murder Club” and CBS’ “Moonlight” — join the night’s middle hour, while Fox is taking a chance by stacking a pair of new music-based reality shows.

Here’s a look at the night:

8-9 p.m.

“Ghost Whisperer,” up in some young-adult ratings categories in its second season, has developed the only real cult audience for a Friday show and is the favorite to win again this fall for CBS.

It will have tougher competition for its core women 25-54 aud, though, from a pair of shows that should be competitive: “Deal or No Deal” on NBC (on a new night) and “20/20” on ABC (moving to an earlier slot after airing at 10 p.m. for many years).

Look for “Ghost” to win when it airs original episodes, and ABC and NBC to split the other weeks.

Going for more of the 18-34 crowd are Fox’s “Next Great American Band” and CW’s “Friday Night Smackdown.” Latter won the night in summer opposite repeats but also won a few times during the season — another indicator of just how far the Big Four have fallen on this night.

“Band” (unavailable for preview) comes from the folks behind “American Idol” so it’s a little surprising that Fox would throw it here. On the other hand, with the net’s short 15-hour sked, there’s only so many slots for it, and the net is hoping it can make some noise by teaming its music skeins.

9-10 p.m.

It’s hard to get excited about either of the dramas bowing here, especially when such a noteworthy series like “Friday Night Lights” is among the viewing choices.

NBC has done a terrible job supporting “Friday” on its own air. Since announcing the show would move from Wednesdays to Fridays this fall, the net aired repeats of its first season on Sunday for a few weeks in June, and then dumped three repeats on Saturday over Labor Day weekend.

In spite of this, here’s hoping the critically cheered drama can hold its loyal, core aud while gaining new viewers in a low-pressure timeslot. It’s clearly the smartest alternative — if auds are looking for that at the end of the work-week.

The “Deal or No Deal” lead-in isn’t ideal, but for a Friday night it’s about the best circulation NBC could hope for.

The pilot was unavailable for the Eye’s vampire detective drama “Moonlighting,” but it could work between two hits. At the very least, it’s more compatible with “Ghost Whisperer” than last season’s crime drama “Close to Home.”

“Women’s Murder Club,” in which women from various professions (medical examiner, crime reporter, etc.,) form a friendship by solving murders, sounds good on paper, but the casting and execution are underwhelming. Still, this is a good slot for such a show and it could improve enough to become the crime drama success ABC has lacked.

And it’s hard to handicap Fox’s “Nashville” (unavailable for preview), except that the docu-soap set in the music industry should fare best among femmes 12-34.

10-11 p.m.

The light-hearted “Las Vegas” (with Tom Selleck taking over the lead role from James Caan) is a good choice to play at 10 opposite “Numbers.” It would have been nice, though, if NBC had primed the audience for its timeslot move by airing it at 10 this summer, but instead left it at 9.

“Numbers” is the slot leader although it was on the decline last season as NBC’s “Law & Order” took away some of the aud looking for crime stories at 10. As the most conventional drama in a lightly watched hour, it should remain on top.

“Men in Trees” didn’t have a great rookie season, but it’s the kind of show you want to root for and should win in women 18-49 while placing a distant third among men 18-49. Thanks to left-over episodes from last season, it could run without repeats — helping it gain momentum throughout the season.

As for “Vegas,” it teams with “Friday” to give NBC a block that both guys and gals can watch together — not a bad plan for Friday night.

Bottom line

On a night when no single net runs away with the crown, ABC, CBS and NBC will have reasons to be happy.

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