Midseason metamorphosis

Apr 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Midseason report cards are in: ABC’s pretty happy with its grades, and Fox is preparing for its valedictory speech.
With four nights of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” proving to be too much and eroding its adults 18 to 49 base, ABC has found some success buttressing its weaknesses by turning to a traditional source-scripted comedies.
Damon Wayans’ “My Wife and Kids,” Denis Leary’s off-kilter cop comedy “The Job” and Joan Cusack’s “What About Joan?” have shown early signs of injecting life into the network’s demo ratings.
“The first order of business [for ABC] is to stop the audience loss,” said John Rash, executive vice president and director of national broadcast buying for Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis. “With these three programs, ABC may have plugged some of the holes in the dike, but they know they may have to continue in the rebuilding mold.”
“What About Joan” and “My Wife and Kids” have exhibited promising time-period increases this season and year to year, despite some signs of erosion in their third weekly outings.
The 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Wednesday double-run airings of “My Wife and Kids” tallied a 4.8 rating/15 share average in adults 18 to 49 last week and marked 10 percent erosion from the previous week’s demo score (5.3/16), according to comparable Nielsen Media Research final national data. In addition to winning the hour each week, the new Wayans sitcom improved 35 percent among adults 18 to 49 in the 8:30 p.m. slot (5.4/16) compared with the first episode at 8 p.m. last Wednesday (4.0/13).
“The Job,” which debuted March 14, finished second in its 9:30 p.m. slot last week by showing promising 9 percent growth in adults 18 to 49 (4.7/12) over its previous week’s airing (4.3/11) in Nielsen’s final national measure.
Meanwhile, with Fox’s “Boot Camp” being scheduled a day early to accommodate the “Blockbuster Entertainment Awards,” “What About Joan” still finished second in adults 18 to 49 (4.7/12) last Tuesday at 9:30 p.m., but dropped 19 percent from its previous week’s airing in the key demo (5.8/15).
A promising sign for “Joan” is that its three-week 5.8/14 average in adults 18 to 49 has improved about 9 percent over its “Dharma & Greg” lead-in (5.3/14) during the span.
“Coming off the young-demo ratings losses at the end of last season, ABC really needed to have another hit, which they hadn’t had until this trio of midseason shows came along,” said Steve Sternberg, senior vice president of research for TN Media in New York. “Even though `My Wife and Kids’ and `Joan’ are on the verge of looking like hits, I’d still like to see how they continue [through] the May sweeps going against fresh episodes on the other networks. That will be the true test.”
Larry Hyams, ABC’s vice president of audience analysis, said, “What all of this shows is that our midseason development has been solid and it could make our May upfront presentation somewhat easier to do than it was a year ago.”
Mr. Sternberg said he thinks it is unfair to blame “Millionaire’s” slippage in the young demos for ABC’s ratings declines. “Even though it is skewing older, as are other game shows, if `Millionaire’ debuted today to the 14 shares [in adults 18 to 49] it is getting today, it’d still be considered a hit,” he said.
ABC’s three new shows have contributed to a 3 percent uptick in the adults 18 to 49 ratings in prime time, spanning from the week of March 12 (4.0/11) to the week of April 2 (4.1/11).
Season to date, ABC has moved back into second place in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.6/12 average. Still, ABC is off 16 percent year to year in the adults 18 to 49 demo, where it had held the top-ranked position (5.5/15) at the same point last year. Fox is breathing down ABC’s back, averaging a 4.5/12 in adults 18 to 49, up 4 percent compared with a year ago (4.3/12).
NBC still holds the top adults 18 to 49 ranking (4.8/13) season to date but is off 4 percent from its year-ago average (5.0/14) due to mixed results with midseason additions “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” and “Three Sisters.” “Fitzgeralds” debuted March 6 following a “Frasier” repeat with an impressive 5.5/14 in adults 18 to 49 but has since dropped 55 percent to a 2.5/8 (on April 10) in the unenviable opening 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. time slot.
Similarly, repeats of “Frasier” at 9 p.m. have also dampened “Three Sisters,” with its 3.8/10 average last week marking a 25 percent decline from its last airing (5.1/12) following an original “Frasier” episode, on March 27.
However, Mitch Metcalfe, NBC’s senior vice president of program planning and scheduling, said he’s encouraged that “Fitzgeralds” is holding onto an 11 share average among adults 18 to 49 and that “Three Sisters” has retained 89 percent of adults 18 to 49 coming out of “Frasier.”
Over at Fox, the network has continued its midseason momentum with another reality series.
“Boot Camp,” which inherited “Temptation Island’s” 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot, debuted March 28 with a 7.9/19 rating in adults 18 to 49, pretty much even with “Temptation’s” premiere average (8.3/19). However, “Boot Camp’s” second airing April 4 dropped 23 percent week to week to a 6.1/15 when up against an original episode of NBC’s “The West Wing” (5.7/14).
Nevertheless, “Boot Camp’s” move up a day to a 9 p.m. Tuesday airing last week allowed it to maintain a slight 2 percent week-to-week uptick at a 6.2/16 average in adults 18 to 49. More significantly, though, “Boot Camp’s” three-week 6.7/17 average in adults 18 to 49 marks a 90-percent-plus improvement compared with the year-ago average in the demo.
Fox’s fall and midseason scheduling moves have allowed it to boast increases of 4 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.6/12), 2 percent in adults 18 to 34 (4.7/14) and 11 percent in teens (4.0/13)-the top rank in the last two categories-compared with year-ago averages.
“Fox has generally evened out the roller coaster and now is [a] viable and valuable network with the most momentum going into the upfront market,” Mr. Rash said. “Thursday has remained a challenge, and `The Lone Gunmen’ continues to be a concern on Fridays but they look like they have a strong enough development pipeline to make those fixes.”
Preston Beckman, Fox’s executive vice president of program planning, agreed with that assesment. “Compared to last year, we have a lot more assets-both new series and reinvigorated incumbents-to where we can focus a bit more on our Thursday and Friday schedules.”