In the danger zone

Oct 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

It’s two weeks into the new TV season and “Danger Ahead” signs have popped up at several broadcast networks.
ABC’s trio of new dramas, NBC’s freshman “In-Laws” comedy and a pair of 9 p.m. dramas on UPN are the potential potholes mentioned most by media buyers.
While ABC is beginning to show signs of renewed ratings life in the comedy genre it hasn’t had as much luck with its struggling 9 p.m. (ET) Thursday drama “Push, Nevada” or its 9 p.m. Friday travel-back-in-time serial “That Was Then.”
ABC: `Push’ comes to shove
“I heard ABC was about to change its title to `That Was That,” joked Steve Sternberg, senior VP and director of audience research for media-buying giant Magna Global USA. “Actually, I think ABC will give it a few more airings, because Friday has historically been a lower-usage night, but there’s no reason why some other show can’t still take advantage of the 55 [percent] to 60 [percent] HUT levels at 9 o’clock.”
Buying sources are speculating that ABC may sit pat for one or two more airings of “That Was Then” before axing it or switching time periods. “That Was Then’s” series premiere Sept. 27 turned in a limp 1.9 rating/9 share average among adults 18 to 49, dropping 17 percent from the year-ago time period average.
One ad-buying source speculated that ABC could move “MDs” from 10 p.m. Wednesday to “That Was Then’s” 9 p.m. Friday slot. An ABC source hinted that a contingency plan may be in place for 9 p.m. Friday but declined to specify whether a move of “MDs” into the slot is in the cards.
“MDs”’ second airing last Wednesday was down 14 percent from its week-prior series debut among women 18 to 49 (3.6/10 vs. 4.2/11). On the other hand, CBS “Presidio Med” grew 3 percent in the demo (3.9/10 vs. 3.8/10) week to week, which had Campbell-Mithun ad buyer John Rash guessing that ABC will be “the first to blink” in the battle of the medical dramas.
Perhaps more problematic for ABC is what to do with “Push, Nevada,” considering the series is offering a $1 million cash prize to a winning viewer who solves the show’s murder mystery. ABC officials are said to be looking at culminating the treasure hunt within ABC’s initial 12-episode order of the Touchstone-produced drama. Since its special premiere Sept. 17, “Push’s” successive 9 p.m. Thursday airings have dropped 69 percent to a most-recent 1.3/3 average in adults 18 to 49.
Another scenario making the rounds is that “Push” is being considered as a more compatible 10 p.m. Wednesday lead-out in the young-adult demos from “The Bachelor II,” which opened the courting competition at a second-ranked score in adults 18 to 49 (4.9/12) last week. One other possibility would be moving “Push” to 9 p.m. Friday to take advantage of the consistent but not sensational lead-in flow from “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
Despite its drama trouble spots, ABC was the first network to confirm full-season nine-episode back orders last week for two of its series-“8 Simple Rules” and “Life With Bonnie.”
NBC: `In-Laws’ in trouble
Media buyers also questioned last week the long-term viability of NBC’s 8 p.m. Tuesday sitcom rookie “In-Laws,” which saw its special 8:30 p.m. second run improve 39 percent over its limp lead-in score in adults 18 to 49 last week (3.3/10 vs. 4.6/12). A couple of buying sources said NBC has decided to swap time periods with the delayed season opener of “Just Shoot Me,” moving it to the 8 p.m. frame this Tuesday to provide a stronger springboard for “In-Laws” at 8:30 p.m. An NBC spokeswoman said, however, she “thought” that the 8 p.m. start for “Just Shoot Me” is a “one-time-only” deal and the show will go back to 8:30 p.m. the following week.
“I don’t think `Just Shoot Me’ had ever been envisioned as an 8 o’clock show, but we live in a strange world,” said Mr. Rash, who is executive VP of national broadcast buying at Campbell-Mithun. “It could be where NBC is looking to preserve share on one of the only weak nights for them. `Just Shoot Me’ is an established show, but it is not going alter the competitive balance on Tuesdays.”
UPN: A ghost of a chance
Over at UPN there have been early rumblings of concern from Fox-owned UPN affiliates about the weak starts of new 9 p.m. dramas “Haunted” and “Twilight Zone” that lead into the stations’ late evening newscasts or syndicated sitcom blocks.
Sources at Fox-owned UPN affiliates have cited concerns that UPN’s roughly 40 percent drops in prime time this season in most of the key young male demographics could negatively impact ad revenue for the 10 p.m. newscasts on Fox duopoly-managed UPN affiliates, such as those in New York and Los Angeles. One Fox station official questioned whether UPN budgeted enough for preseason launch promotion with outside media outlets other than “family deals” on the Viacom-owned MTV Networks and TNN on cable, Infinity radio stations and outdoor signage.
UPN officials declined comment.
Tuesday 9 p.m. rookie “Haunted” isn’t even holding half of the audience retention from 8 p.m. anchor drama “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” To a less severe degree, the 9 p.m. Wednesday revival of the “Twilight Zone” trilogy is dropping about one-third of “Enterprise’s” 8 p.m. hour lead-ins.
Somewhat alarming is “Haunted’s” first two airings dropping 54 percent from “Buffy’s” lead-in among its core male 18 to 34 demo (1.2/3 vs. 2.6/9) early into the new season. While “Buffy” is suffering 37 percent erosion in the key male demo from its robust year-ago premiere move to UPN, it did post 4 percent week-to-week growth in men 18 to 34 (2.6/9 vs. 2.5/8).
`”Haunted’ appears to be on the endangered list,” said Roy Rothstein, executive VP and director of national audience research for New York-based buying service Zenith Media. “To me, it was puzzling when they picked up `Roswell’ and then developed `Haunted’ a year later, because neither appeared to be compatible to `Buffy’s’ younger male demo profile.”
Like “Buffy,” “Enterprise” is off by half from its year-ago demo ratings this season, but “Enterprise” did grow week to week in its core males 18 to 49 demo (3.1/9 vs. 2.7/8) last week. “Enterprise” also moved up 4 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 (2.5/7 vs. 2.4/7), which allowed “Twilight Zone’s” lead-out to exhibit 38 percent growth from its debut (1.8/5 vs. 1.3/3).
“We’re really going to have to extend things out from the fourth quarter [2002] to first quarter [2003] to really get a read on how the ratings changes pan out in the year-to-year comparisons of UPN’s Tuesday and Wednesday [ratings] performance,” Mr. Sternberg said. “The fact that `Buffy’ or `Enterprise’ is down a share point or two is not of concern compared to their year-ago premiere [ratings] spikes, but I’m a little bit disappointed about their lead-outs failing to hold audience.”