Networks map plans for sweeps

Nov 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Ongoing series such as “CSI” and “Life With Bonnie” will take precedence over special-event programming in the November sweeps period-which began Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 27-as the networks look to entice viewers to tune in to their regularly scheduled lineups for the rest of the season.
The month-long TV-ratings period, which determines local stations’ ad rates, will also offer a clearer picture of broadcasters’ ability to deliver their audiences, with the anomalies of Sept. 11 and the Major League Baseball playoffs left behind.
For ABC, this sweeps period is especially crucial. The struggling Disney-owned network has already made some gains this season-especially on Tuesdays with its sitcom series lineup including new shows “8 Simple Rules” and “Life With Bonnie.” ABC has fared well by trimming its losses so far-now only down 5 percent in adults 18 to 49 vs. a year ago, when it was down by more than 20 percent. Its “The Bachelor,” for instance, has even beat NBC powerhouse “The West Wing” for a couple of weeks in adults 18 to 49.
Fox under pressure
News Corp.’s Fox is also under pressure to perform, now that it will return to its regular programming of “That ’70s Show,” “Grounded for Life” and “24” on Tuesdays. In October, the baseball playoffs aired instead. Fox premiered the Tuesday lineup Oct. 26 and posted its best numbers ever for critically acclaimed second-year series “24,” as well as an overall surprise victory for Fox for the night in adults 18 to 49.
“[`24′] did seem to have an impact on ABC,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP, programming analysis, for Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Initiative Media, New York. Other analysts said General Electric Co.’s NBC, which is trying to build a new lineup around “Frasier” with “The In-Laws” and “Hidden Hills,” was also hurt by the return of the Fox series.
NBC has the most to lose, analysts said. Already it has dropped 6 percent in adults 18 to 49 through the first five weeks of the season, including a big drop on Tuesdays, while CBS has gained 7 percent. On the first night of sweeps, ratings for NBC and CBS were a fraction apart.
“Sure, we are concerned,” said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment. Still, NBC is ahead in adults 18 to 49 for the first five weeks with a Nielsen Media Research rating of 4.9 to CBS’s 4.2. Viacom’s CBS wants to keep that momentum.
“`Without a Trace’ on Thursday is doing a lot better than `The Agency’ [in that time period] the year before and `CSI’ is doing a lot better,” said Sharianne Brill, VP, programming analysis, for Aegis Group’s Carat North America, New York.
Thursday night strategy
NBC will try once again to slow down CBS’s “Survivor” and “CSI” power tag team with a “supersizing” of its three main Thursday comedies-“Friends,” “Scrubs” and “Will & Grace.” On Nov. 7, each will run 40 minutes rather than the usual 30 minutes, while freshman sitcom “Good Morning, Miami” sits out the week.
With both “Friends” and “Survivor” starting at 8 p.m., NBC’s strategy is to keep viewers for an extra 10 minutes, preventing them from switching over to the second half of the hour-long “Survivor.”
AOL Time Warner’s The WB has rocketed to big ratings this year with newcomer “Everwood” and a still-growing “Smallville.” The network is up 24 percent to a 2.1 in adults 18 to 49 rating so far after five weeks. Viacom’s UPN, however, had ratings fall dramatically-its mother ship, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” saw its adults 18 to 49 ratings fall 22 percent, to a 2.5 rating from a 3.2, and its “Enterprise” is down 60 percent, to a 2.5 rating from 6.3.
Movies and specials
While fewer special-event and theatrical movies are planned, the networks haven’t abandoned the tactic altogether. Films scheduled include three Julia Roberts vehicles-“Erin Brockovich” and “Runaway Bride” on NBC, and “My Best Friend’s Wedding ” on ABC, which also plans to air “Gladiator” and “Saving Private Ryan.”
NBC has scheduled a remake of Stephen King’s classic horror film “Carrie,” as well as a movie based on an old detective series, “Hunter: Return to Justice,” and two separate music specials featuring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
CBS will air “Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story,” as well as “Martin and Lewis,” a movie based on comic duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. It will also show “The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show,” which appeared on ABC last year. ABC plans a Paul McCartney documentary, “Back in the U.S.,” and “The Pennsylvania Miners’ Story,” based on the real-life news story of coal miners who survived 77 hours in life-threatening conditions this past summer.#