CBS gets high marks

Sep 2, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The new broadcast season is almost upon us, and Optimedia International and Magna Global, two influential media agencies, have made their final picks, pans and prognostications.
There’s good news for CBS, which both Magna and Optimedia predict will have three successful new shows (“Still Standing,” “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace”), the most of any broadcast network, and for NBC, which both said will remain the strongest, most upscale network in the new season, despite cracks in its once unassailable Thursday schedule.
Neither agency sees a new show reaching the breakout-hit stratosphere, with the possible exception of “CSI: Miami,” which is an “extension of a franchise,” as Bob Flood, Optimedia’s senior VP and director of national TV, pointed out.
Both agencies also gave the thumbs up to “American Dreams,” NBC’s new Sunday 8 p.m. hour, and to The WB’s overall strategy of targeting young adults, particularly females. Both agree that it’s a rebuilding year for ABC, with the Nielsen jury yet to weigh in on the network’s 8 p.m. “Happy Hour” family-viewing strategy.
ABC needs to “stop the bleeding before it can recover from its wounds,” said Steve Sternberg, Magna’s senior VP and director of audience analysis.
The six major broadcast networks are debuting 36 shows. Of those, 13 new series get a thumbs down from Optimedia. ABC has the most with five, followed by Fox with four and CBS with three. NBC and The WB have one clunker each, according to Optimedia.
“Being on our `miss’ list doesn’t mean a show won’t draw a following,” Mr. Flood said. “But the marketplace is so hotly competitive that the networks want to see strong ratings almost from the start or they don’t consider a show a success.”
Mum about the `misses’
Not surprisingly Optimedia was reluctant to name its “misses.” That’s at least partly because all the big agencies, including Optimedia, will inevitably have placed clients in shows that are destined to fail. However, it is understood that a partial list of shows Optimedia believes will soon be gone includes NBC’s “The In-Laws,” CBS’s “Bram & Alice,” ABC’s “Less Than Perfect” and “Dinotopia” and Fox’s “Meet the Marks,” “30 Seconds to Fame” and “The Grubbs.” The WB’s “Family Affair” and Fox’s “Oliver Beene” have borderline places on that list as well.
Many of these same shows are on Magna’s thumbs-down list, which also includes NBC’s “Hidden Hills.” “Where do we start?” Mr. Sternberg said of ABC’s potential misfires.
Both Magna and Optimedia gave the thumbs up to just one new ABC series, “8 Simple Rules,” starring John Ritter, although Magna’s Mr. Sternberg added that he liked the “Push, Nevada” pilot and is “hoping” that it can do well in its tough 9 p.m. Thursday time period too.
Also in Optimedia’s thumbs-up column are two new series from Fox (“Cedric the Entertainer” and “girls club,” the new David E. Kelley series), two new series from The WB (“Everwood” and “Do Over”) and two new series from UPN (“Half & Half” and “The Twilight Zone”).
Mr. Sternberg said he wasn’t prepared to call either Fox’s “Cedric” or UPN’s “The Twilight Zone” potential hits yet, but that his own dark-horse possibilities included “Fastlane” on Fox and The WB’s “What I Like About You,” starring Jennie Garth, which is a compatible lead-in to “Sabrina” on Friday nights.
Also on Fridays, CBS’s “Hack” and Fox’s “John Doe” “both look good, but they’re on opposite each other, so maybe one will make it and one won’t,” Mr. Sternberg said.
Every season bad things happen to good shows that find themselves in tough time periods. This year, once “Monday Night Football” ends, ABC will be airing “Dragnet” and “Miracles” in the 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time periods, and the competition will include everything from “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “CSI: Miami” on CBS to “Third Watch” and “Crossing Jordan” on NBC. “That’s going to be quite a fight,” Mr. Flood said.
Fox’s “Fastlane,” airing Wednesdays against NBC’s “The West Wing,” CBS’s “Amazing Race” and ABC’s “The Bachelor,” is another show that will be in an immediate time-period fight for its life, he said, which will be exacerbated by the show’s high production costs. “There are a number of good shows there. Somebody’s going to have to fall off the radar screen,” he said.
Handicapping the networks
The fourth quarter will see a “virtual dead heat” in households between NBC and CBS, while NBC will lead among adults 18 to 49 and adults 18 to 34, edging out Fox in the latter category, Mr. Sternberg predicted. He also foresees Fox leading among teens, followed closely by The WB, and among persons 12 to 34. CBS will continue its dominance in the older demos, Mr. Sternberg said, and will be locked in a tight race with Fox for second place in the 18 to 49 demo.
Broadcast network ownership of new series is more of a force this year than ever before, Mr. Sternberg said. “In fall 2002, the six networks will own a combined 67 percent of the schedule and a remarkable 75 percent of new series hours,” he said, comparing that with 1995, the year before the financial interest and syndication rules were repealed, when the networks had an ownership stake in just 31 percent of their new shows.
Ownership “really hasn’t benefited [the networks] yet,” Mr. Sternberg said, “but if one or two shows become major hits and they go into syndication, then it’s worth it.”