If the goal of premiere week is to avoid any body blows, then every broadcaster but CBS is feeling the aches and pains.
Seventeen shows have bowed, and ABC, NBC and Fox already must be considering their first sked switcheroos.
It’s the usual game of chicken, though, as everyone’s likely waiting to see if someone else takes the dubious title of first network to cancel a show.
ABC has some immediate black holes Wednesday with 10 p.m. legal drama “The Whole Truth” (1.5 rating in adults 18-49) and Thursday with young-adult serialized drama”My Generation” (1.6). Neither was expected to be much of a ratings force to begin with, and will need to improve this week to still be around in coming days.
Situation is even more dire at Fox, whose weak bow of the critically acclaimed “Lone Star” (1.3 rating in 18-49) was one of the biggest stories of opening night (Daily Variety, Sept. 22). And the net, which skeds just 15 hours, also has to be concerned with Friday’s “Good Guys,” which performed modestly in its summer launch and couldn’t crack even a 1 demo rating in its fall premiere on Friday.
At NBC, Monday drama “The Event” and Thursday comedy “Outsourced” were two of the best rookie performers last week, but Friday drama “Outlaw” sank to a 1.1 with its first original Friday seg. And the first civilian edition of “The Apprentice” in years is in serious jeopardy of being yanked from Thursday after posting a 1.4 (it bowed to a 1.5 the previous week).
The Eye’s preems, meanwhile, ranged from the OK (“The Defenders”) to the good (“Hawaii Five-0” and “Bleep My Dad Says”), with its “Mike and Molly” and “Blue Bloods” in the “solid” in-between range.
This week will see the debuts of one of the best hopes for both ABC (Tuesday’s “No Ordinary Family”) and NBC (“Law and Order: Los Angeles”), but first here are some thoughts on the primetime landscape after the opening week of the season:
n So much for premiere week. Network honchos got a little too enamored with the idea of an everybody-all-at-once premiere week. “We all had amnesia,” said one scheduling exec. “We all way overdid it.”
Indeed, the networks just a few years ago had gotten out of the premiere week biz, deciding that piling all of their new series opposite one another was suicide. With eyeballs already spread out across broadcast, cable and the Internet, the thought of trying to all get sampling at once seemed ludicrous.
But then the idea of “a rising tide lifts all boats” caught on, and the networks began to embrace a strategy of making a lot of noise all at once. The idea was to promote the week so heavily that viewers will be forced to recognize the start of the broadcast season.
Some may argue most of this year’s quickly rejected series, such as “Lone Star” and “The Whole Truth,” were destined for low ratings anyway.
But you send more troops into battle, and the casualty rate is bound to be higher. And that’s what happened this year. Some shows are now already too wounded to continue.
Look for the networks to rethink their premiere week strategy next fall. There will still be one, but webheads may opt to spread their debuts out a bit more.
n Pent-up demand for returning favorites. Viewers were eager to get back to soph sensations “Glee” and “Modern Family,” both of which hit series highs in their second-season premieres. Other returning faves with standout premieres included “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Office” and “Two and a Half Men,” as well as reality faves “Dancing With the Stars” and “Survivor.”
The continued success of returning shows made it even more clear to network execs that they hadn’t come up with shows this year that might fire up auds in a similar way. But the fact is, the nets decided to launch a batch of mostly procedural cop and legal shows.
All may not be lost, however. Fox holds out hope for “Raising Hope,” the best-reviewed half-hour this fall and the quirkiest of the freshman bunch. And the networks still have an unusually hefty batch of midseason shows on the way.
n More viewer hopscotch. So much for neighborly love, as the decision by viewers to avoid newbies like “Lone Star” and “The Whole Truth” is having a negative impact on shows before them (“House” and “Cougar Town,” respectively).
But the whole idea of lead-ins and lead-outs continues to become a thing of the past (except, perhaps, at CBS, where “The Big Bang Theory” turned “Bleep My Dad Says” into the week’s No. 1 new series among adults 18-49). “Modern Family” didn’t provide much of a halo for “Cougar Town” or “Better With You,” while on the flip side NBC viewers tuned into “The Event” but didn’t come early for the premiere of “Chuck.” They didn’t stick around for “Chase” either.
Other network islands include ABC’s Tuesday 9 p.m. “Dancing With the Stars” results show, which couldn’t help “Detroit 1-8-7” at 10, and the net’s Thursday vet “Grey’s Anatomy,” which more than tripled its “My Generation” lead-in.
n The 10 p.m. bar ceiling remains pretty low. One year after NBC famously struck out with “The Jay Leno Show” weeknights at 10, no show in the time period achieved a 4 demo rating in premiere week (though “Hawaii Five-0” came darn close). DVRs continue to be in overdrive as auds use the hour — which hasn’t produced a big hit in more than five years — to playback shows from earlier in the evening.
NBC, not surprisingly, is the only network with growth through five weeknights of the season, with its 2.16 rating in adults 18-49 repping a 13% improvement over last year’s 1.92 with Leno; still, NBC finished third among the Big Three during premiere week.
ABC (2.24 rating) didn’t do much better and was down a big 34% (due largely to “Grey’s Anatomy” extending into the hour a year ago). Tuesday drama “Detroit 1-8-7” didn’t open that great (2.3 rating in 18-49) but it could have been worse.
CBS was the top broadcaster in 18-49 on four of five nights (losing only to a special “Law and Order: SVU” on Wednesday), but was down 8% vs. last year (3.08 vs. 3.36), when its two “CSI” spinoffs were still faring well enough (opposite Leno) to draw at least a 4 rating. Among its victories was Friday’s “Blue Bloods” (prelim 2.2/7 in 18-49, 12.8 million), which comfortably led its hour among adults under 55.
One of the problems for the broadcasters is that the 18-34 crowd continues to turn to cable in the 10 o’clock hour, with shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Sons of Anarchy” holding up well even opposite broadcast premieres.
n There’s room for two Thursday comedy networks. CBS opened “The Big Bang Theory” to impressive numbers in its Thursday 8 p.m. timeslot (4.9/16 in 18-49, 14.04 million viewers overall), outperforming its Monday 9:30 p.m. debut of a year ago and helping provide ample sampling for new 8:30 half-hour “Bleep My Dad Says” (4.0/12, 12.58m), the season’s top premiere in 18-49.
Despite the Eye’s comedy strength in the opening hour, NBC held up surprisingly well with “Community” (2.2/7 in 18-49, 5.00m) and “30 Rock” (2.6/8, 5.91m), which were up vs. the net’s opening hour Thursday laffers of a year ago. And the Peacock’s middle hour of “The Office” (4.4/12, 8.48m) and “Outsourced” (3.6/10 in 18-49, 7.49m) looked good as well, placing second to ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (5.4/14, 14.32m) in 18-49 and winning in men 18-49.
It appears that having 14 million new comedy viewers in front of their TVs at 8 p.m. will help the comedies airing after it. At 8:30 p.m., for example, “Bleep” and NBC’s “30 Rock” combined for a 6.6 rating in adults 18-49, and NBC’s “The Office” benefited by apparently drawing two-thirds of that aud at 9.
CBS loses out in this scenario, as auds have gradually turned away from it in the 9 p.m. hour, where “CSI” settled for a third-place 18-49 finish (but won in total viewers); and in teens thanks to guest star Justin Bieber (2.3/8).
CBS has its sights set on expanding to two hours of comedy Thursday — and how its two newcomers (“Bleep” and “Mike and Molly”) fare will determine whether that might happen sooner rather than later.