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Optimedia predicts TV hits and misses

Aug 27, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Optimedia International, a subsidiary of Publicis S.A., has picked the shows on ad-supported cable it thinks will most likely be hits this fall.
“Combat Missions,” the upcoming Mark Burnett series on USA; “Women Docs,” the new reality series about female doctors on Lifetime; “Cover Wars,” the battle-of-the-bands show emerging as a cult favorite on VH1; and “Adults Only: The Secret History of the Other Hollywood,” the Hollywood true-crime miniseries coming up on Court TV, are cable’s most likely first-run winners, according to Kris Magel, principal and manager, national broadcast, for Optimedia, which handles media planning and buying for such companies as BMW, British Airways and Met Life.
On the broadcast side, Optimedia’s annual preseason forecast finds seven likely hits and 13 likely misfires among the 37 new shows premiering this fall on the six networks. However, it is a year without any “breakout” hits on the horizon, said Mr. Magel, who also said the agency’s last preseason breakout-hit call went to “The West Wing.”
This year’s Lucky Seven broadcast network “hits,” by which Optimedia means they’re likely to last the entire season and may even increase the time period’s ratings over the previous year, are “Alias” (ABC), midseason show “Emma Brody” (Fox), “The Education of Max Bickford” (CBS), “The Guardian” (CBS), “24” (Fox), “Pasadena” (Fox) and “Smallville” (The WB).
This year’s Unlucky Thirteen broadcast-network “misses,” by which Optimedia means they are unlikely even to make it through the fourth quarter, are “According to Jim” (ABC), “Thieves” (ABC), “Wolf Lake” (CBS), “The Ellen Show” (CBS), “Danny” (CBS), “The Bernie Mac Show” (Fox), “The Tick” (Fox), “Emeril” (NBC), “UC: Undercover” (NBC), “Glory Days” (The WB), “Elimidate Deluxe” (The WB), “Off Centre” (The WB) and “Lost in the USA,” the WB series that has been canceled.
The remaining broadcast debuts are “marginal,” which Optimedia defines as programs that will likely survive through most of the season and garner average ratings, and they include some high-profile series that have attracted hot buzz. Among the Optimedia marginals are “The Amazing Race” (CBS), “Undeclared” (Fox) and “Enterprise” (UPN). Of “Enterprise,” the “Star Trek” prequel, Mr. Magel said it was rated as marginal only because it was airing on UPN, where its ratings were certain to be minuscule. Of “Race” and “Undeclared,” both of which have been pegged as strong contenders by other handicappers, Mr. Magel conceded that those were two judgment calls that might have been too harsh.
Back on the cable side, Mr. Magel predicted that “Friends” reruns would be a success for TBS. He also thinks the high-profile broadcast network dramatic series that are being “repurposed” for ad-supported cable runs shortly after their broadcast debuts-including “CSI,” “24” and “Once and Again”-would benefit from new, cable-only, adult content (Electronic Media, Aug. 20), which is being discussed as a possibility.
“I think that any opportunity to add fresh new content to a very fresh new program, as long as it’s not deemed extremely offensive, is a great idea,” Mr. Magel said. “If you’re talking about adding content that’s going to … make it more fun for the viewer to check out the other episode, that would be really cool,” Mr. Magel said.
Another cool cable ploy, he said, is Cartoon Network’s so-called “Adult Swim” block of animated programs aimed at the 18 to 34 audience, which will be telecast beginning at 10 p.m.
Cartoon Network’s ratings always include strong adult numbers, Mr. Magel said. However, he cautioned, “It will probably be difficult for them to garner adult advertising dollars until they really generate some buzz.”
One cable network that is generating buzz is Speedvision, which has begun emphasizing its NASCAR connection, Mr. Magel said. The network has done well delivering “top-quality, high-performance racing,” which has attracted higher-end, foreign-auto-maker advertising. Now, Mr. Magel said, Speedvision has to make sure that the down-home aspects of NASCAR, as popular as the sport has become, don’t make those up-market advertisers rethink their network buys.
The all-news cable networks, particularly CNN and CNN Headline News, have to rethink as well. Mr. Magel said CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel have reached rough overall ratings parity, so advertisers may rethink the premiums they’ve been paying to CNN, while MSNBC and Fox may need to rethink how they’re going to hold onto their gains in the face of CNN’s multipronged counterattack under new management.