Networks try to get their legs for sweeps

Oct 15, 2001  •  Post A Comment

To the dismay of the broadcast networks, the coming November sweeps period is going to be less about event-type programming or series stunting than about getting the 2001-02 season into a consistent running pattern. Plagued by frequent news pre-emptions of regularly scheduled programming and further delays for premiering entertainment series, the networks are simply looking toward the sweeps (Nov. 1 to 28) as marking a somewhat normal return to fall viewing patterns.
The effects of the lingering terrorist coverage and the ongoing U.S. military actions also have Fox pushing back many of its debuts further into November. Even CBS, which has been forced to postpone “The 53rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards” twice, is now looking at the sweeps as a time to cobble together a toned-down-and potentially locked-down-awards show.
Nowhere is that sense of urgency being emphasized than at ABC, where it is moving quickly to revamp its struggling Tuesday night lineup. Going from its premiere week (Sept. 25) to last Tuesday (Oct. 9), ABC’s lineup dropped 41 percent in adults 18 to 49 (5.6 rating/14 share vs. 3.3/8)-prompting the network to take drastic scheduling measures.
“There is no logic to the declines, but there has not been a lot of logic to this season so far,” said Lloyd Braun, co-chairman of the ABC Television Entertainment Group.
To bolster Tuesday, ABC canceled midseason comedy “What About Joan,” is moving “Bob Patterson” to Wednesday and is promoting “NYPD Blue” into the 9 p.m. (ET) Tuesday time slot starting Nov. 6.
“Blue” had originally been scheduled to return next month in the 10 p.m. Wednesday time slot (in a time-sharing arrangement with “20/20”) but will now be moving an hour earlier on Wednesday, compared with its 10 p.m. Tuesday slot last season.
In a move that is sure to please series creator Steven Bochco, who had earlier voiced dismay over “Blue’s” Wednesday slotting, Mr. Braun thinks the historical ratings muscle of the cop drama will bolster prospects for Mr. Bochco’s struggling legal drama “Philly” in the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. Tuesday slot.
“To be honest, this had nothing do with lobbying [from Mr. Bochco],” Mr. Braun said. “This was about doing a quick, dramatic improvement on Tuesday and putting the best lineup forward. `Philly’ has been virtually a self-starter with no [lead-in] support, and this [is] about giving it much better lead-in support coming out of `Blue.”’
Another ABC executive, who requested anonymity, nevertheless joked that Mr. Bochco is “probably doing his happy dance.” In a bit of unexpected but opportune sweeps stunting, “Blue” will fill the 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. Tuesday time slots Nov. 6 with a two-hour season opener. “Philly” is set to return to its normal 10 p.m. berth Nov. 13.
To make room for “Blue” in the 9 p.m. slot, ABC is moving “Spin City” an hour earlier to 8:30 p.m. coming out of “Dharma & Greg’s” 8 p.m. lead-in.
In the meantime, “Bob Patterson,” which dropped 33 percent in the adults 18 to 49 ratings for its second outing last Tuesday, will be getting a stronger 9 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. lead-in from “The Drew Carey Show” starting Oct. 24. The Jason Alexander vehicle will take over the 9:30 p.m. Tuesday slot from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” which keeps its 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Thursday double exposures. Critically-received cop sitcom “The Job” was originally slated to take over the 9:30 p.m. Wednesday slot but is now being pushed back again for midseason insertion, Mr. Braun confirmed.
“`Bob’ is a lot more compatible with `Drew’ than coming out of `Joan’ on Tuesday,” Mr. Braun said. “Given the changes in listings and promotions [for the week’s delayed start of the 2001-02 season], which everybody had to endure, we really wanted to give [`Bob’] a fresh start and room to breathe in the new slot.”
“What About Joan,” starring Joan Cusack, proved to be a capable midseason player last season but had dropped 29 percent with Tuesday’s personal-low 2.5 rating/6 share average, compared with its 3.5/9 adults 18 to 49 score for the season opener Oct. 2.
Still up in the air is whether newsmagazine “20/20”-or another edition of “PrimeTime Thursday”-will hold the 10 p.m. Wednesday berth come December, when “Blue” was originally slated to take the time slot. Entertainment sources say it will be up to ABC News which newsmag will fill the closing Wednesday slot into the new year.
Mr. Braun also said ABC is still going forward with moving “Thieves” an hour earlier to an 8 p.m. Friday start (at the end of “Mole II’s” run), followed by “Once and Again” and “20/20” this December.
Much of ABC’s new scheduling changes, however, have given it limited time slots for major event stunting. Although it had been previously rumored that “Stephen King’s Rose Red” miniseries would air in November, ABC now plans to run it in either the subsequent February 2002 or May 2002 sweeps periods.
News coverage of the terrorist-related events and the holding back of Major League Baseball’s playoffs and World Series by one week also has Fox debuting its prime-time lineup in November. One of the season’s most highly anticipated new dramas, “24” is pushed back a week to a 9 p.m. Tuesday start on Nov. 6. And Fox’s top-rated Sunday and Monday lineups will start the week of Nov. 4.
Major in-program stunting for Sunday has been limited to “Malcolm in the Middle’s” Jane Kaczmarek, Paul Newman and the band R.E.M. doing voice-overs on “The Simpsons” episodes successively Nov. 4-18. And the Nov. 4 two-part opener of “The X-Files” features “Xena” lead actress Lucy Lawless and actor Cary Elwes making guest appearances.
The 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5 opener of “Ally McBeal” features a guest shot from Dame Edna Everage (a k a Barry Humphries), while a subsequent Nov. 25 episode has singer Elton John and actress Jacqueline Bissett guest-starring as themselves.
Fox’s lone major event will be the Sunday, Nov. 25 worldwide TV premiere of George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace,” which is bypassing plays on pay and basic cable networks.
Long-form event programming is a bit thinly spread out on the other networks as well. CBS is scheduling the much anticipated return concert “Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special,” which was taped last month in New York’s Madison Square Garden, for airing Tuesday, Nov. 13 from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Also preliminarily on CBS’s slate is the “I Love Lucy 50th Anniversary Special” for Sunday, Nov. 11 (9 p.m. to 11 p.m.), but as of late last Friday the Eye Network was still mulling Nov. 11 or Nov. 18 dates for the Emmy Awards. A decision from CBS and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is expected before the end of this week.
The addition of the Emmy Awards to the sweeps schedule would be a further boost to CBS’s November sweeps performance, but it also has “The 35th Annual CMA Awards” set to air Wednesday, Nov. 7 (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.). Additionally being readied for sweeps dates are the made-for-TV movies “Beyond the Prairie II: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder” and “In Love and War” for tentative Sunday runs on Nov. 4 and Nov. 11, respectively.
NBC, although essentially out of the made-for-TV business on a regular basis, has the two-part miniseries “Uprising,” concerning the Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis in 1943 and filmed in several Slovak countries, set to air on successive nights Nov. 4-5. And Jennifer Lopez who also has a series development deal with NBC, will have her first TV concert special airing Tuesday, Nov. 20 (10 p.m. to 11 p.m.).