ABC, Fox, CBS score with early debuts

Sep 23, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Last week’s preseason run-up to the networks’ rollout of the 2002-03 season this week seemed akin to out-of-town tryouts for Broadway-bound shows-hits, misses and all.
Downtrodden ABC found potential hits in Tuesday sitcoms “8 Simples Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” and “Life With Bonnie,” but may face a miss with the much-hyped drama “Push, Nevada,” which further declined in a subsequent Thursday airing.
Early on it looked like Fox may have found certifiable hits in the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Wednesday rollouts of comedies “The Bernie Mac Show” and “Cedric The Entertainer” and the action drama “Fastlane”-with each half-hour frame building in the ratings. And CBS’s preemptive Sept. 19 launch of “Survivor: Thailand,” the reality series’ fifth incarnation, hit big and looks to dig in against NBC’s highly anticipated ninth season opening of “Friends” this Thursday.
“It may not seem spectacular, but you certainly can take this preseason week seriously when it comes to getting an early indicator on how things play out for some new shows,” said Steve Sternberg, senior VP and director of national audience research for media buying giant Magna Global USA. “Certainly, I do think that `8 Simples Rules’ will do better against repeat programming [last week], but when you see how well it an original episode of [Fox’s] `That ’70’s Show,’ that tells you something. Preseason rollouts still work for getting new shows out there, although I feel it is of limited benefit to returning shows.”
Indeed, that was the textbook case Tuesday, Sept. 17. “8 Simple Rules,” a sitcom starring John Ritter, set highs for the night in the key adults 18 to 49 demo (6.1 rating/19 share) and total viewers (17.2 million) and could help break ABC out of its two-years-plus ratings drought. According to the Nielsen Media Research, “8 Simple Rules”’ strong opening gave ABC a 17 percent margin of victory over Fox’s season premiere of “That ’70s Show”-a perennial time period winner-among adults 18 to 49 (6.1/19 vs. 5.2/16).
The special 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. preview of “Life With Bonnie” also held a telling 28 percent advantage over Fox’s “Grounded for Life” in adults 18 to 49 (6.0/16 vs. 4.7/12)-and retained 98 percent of its “8 Simples Rules” lead-in.
“Although CBS, NBC, The WB and UPN did not have yet have their Tuesday debuts, the fact that new ABC comedies did well against Fox mainstays bodes well for ABC in that 8 o’clock hour,” Mr. Sternberg said. “Even if [The WB’s] `Gilmore Girls’ and [UPN’s] `Buffy, the Vampire Slayer’ premieres [this week] get stronger, it would still be considered a victory for ABC if only 3 to 5 share points are shaved from what `8 Simple Rules’ and `Life With Bonnie ` did in their last outings.”
It was, however, a mixed bag for ABC when it came to the Tuesday to Thursday falloff of the treasure hunt/mystery “Push, Nevada.” The drama’s a special preview last Tuesday (in the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. slot) turned in a competitive third-ranked 4.2/11 among adults 18 to 49 but dropped 30 percent from its “Simple Rules”/”Bonnie” lead-in hour. Another troubling sign was “Push’s” 15 percent drop among adults 18 to 49 from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (4.6/12 vs. 3.9/12). Worse yet was “Push’s” 2.4/6 in adults 18 to 49 Thursday night, a precipitous 42 percent slide for its second-episode premiere in its regular 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. slot-minus competition from CBS’s normal run of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” in the time slot.
Mr. Sternberg and other media buyers found more positives in Fox’s new Wednesday night lineup. The second-season opener of “Bernie Mac” won the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. frame by a 53 percent margin over ABC’s repeat airing of “My Wife and Kids” in adults 18 to 49 (4.6/14 vs. 3.0/10). “Bernie Mac” also had top-ranked scores in adults 18 to 34 (4.5/16) and total viewers (10.1 million).
That set the stage for “Cedric,” which improved 2 percent on its lead-in among adults 18 to 49 (4.7/13) and marked 21 percent growth compared with the year-ago time period (3.9/10, with “Grounded for Life”). The 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Wednesday premiere of “Fastlane” put the pedal to the metal in winning adults 18 to 49 (4.4/13) and unexpectedly improving 7 percent on its “Bernie”/”Cedric” lead-in average (4.6/14). “Fastlane,” though, may be slowed down with NBC’s rollout of “The West Wing” and The WB’s rollout of “Birds of Prey.”
Preston Beckman, executive VP of program planning and scheduling for Fox, said he found the network’s Wednesday growth “encouraging” in people 12 to 34 and adults 18 to 34 in particular.
CBS also got into act last week, with its preseason opener of “Survivor: Thailand” Thursday dominating the 8 p.m. hour and improving 16 percent among adults 18 to 34 for the year-ago debut of “Survivor: Marquesas.”