No Super surge for ABC

Feb 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A Super day turned into a pretty bad week for ABC.
Despite a lopsided victory by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the favored Oakland Raiders, an average of 88.6 million viewers watched the game-giving ABC the largest audience for the Super Bowl in five years and invaluable promo time to hype the network’s new Monday drama lineup, its sophomore drama “Alias” and its new late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
However, the added exposure didn’t seem to do much good for ABC’s Monday lineup.
“Veritas: The Quest” and “Miracles” debuted to fourth-place time slot finishes among adults 18 to 49 last Monday. And “The Practice” was off 50 percent from its season-to-date ratings average among adults 18 to 49 in its new Monday time slot. “The Practice” finished in fourth place in adults 18 to 49 last Monday with a 2.8/6-time slot winner Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” beat it by 279 percent with an 11/24.
On Sundays, “The Practice” was winning its 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time period in adults 18 to 49.
“We could not have been more surprised that it wasn’t a more solid time period premiere,” said Thom Sherman, senior VP of drama programming at ABC. “But we also don’t think that story is written yet either. Once `Joe Millionaire’ goes off and the people know that the show’s on Monday, I think it will rebound. We are all confident that that show has enough of a loyal following and is a strong enough show that it’s going to be just fine there.”
However, damage has already been done. The poor results of the time slot move infuriated the normally reserved show creator David E. Kelley, who publicly charged ABC with trying to devalue the drama right before the beginning of negotiations to renew it for an eighth season. Mr. Kelley called the time period move “an act of stunning stupidity, which did all the damage it was meant to do” in a Los Angeles Times article last week. ABC has denied the charges.
Despite the poor ratings and Mr. Kelley’s well-documented unhappiness, Mr. Sherman said no talks have been held about moving “The Practice” back to its old Sunday 10 p.m. time slot, which has been given to new drama “Dragnet.”
“We all felt when we made this decision that trying to program three straight hours of new shows on a night [Monday] was suicide,” he said. “You have to take your assets and put them in a place where they can help you and help you launch nights. We’re very confident that this strategy is going to pay off.”
Happy anyway
Mr. Sherman said the network was also happy with the debuts of “Veritas” and “Miracles.” “Veritas” was up 65 percent in adults 18 to 49 (3.3/8 vs. 2.0/6) and 57 percent in total viewers (9.1 million vs. 5.8 million) from the network’s average for the season with regularly scheduled programming in the hour. “Miracles” had a 3.6/9 rating in adults 18 to 49 and 8.7 million total viewers, giving ABC its highest series ratings in the hour since March 2001.
“We had incredible time period improvement over what we were doing earlier in the year and also what we were doing in the hours last year,” he said. “We were very encouraged.”
ABC also took heat last week for the delayed start of “Alias,” which was showcased in the post-Super Bowl slot and was hyped throughout the game with numerous promos of series star Jennifer Garner wearing sexy lingerie. While the series scored its highest ratings ever among adults 18 to 49 (8.2/23-up 105 percent from its season average) and total viewers (17.4 million), it was the lowest-rated entertainment show to follow a Super Bowl.
“Alias” didn’t start until 43 minutes after the football game ended and after a lengthy postgame show, which included a live performance by Bon Jovi. Viewing patterns from years past show that the later a series starts after the Super Bowl ends, the fewer viewers it will attract.
“Viewing patterns at 11 o’clock [ET]-even if people have been watching the Super Bowl-they probably didn’t get as many first-time or casual viewers that they might have gotten if it started earlier,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at rep firm Katz Television Group.
Several industry executives suggested that the postgame show may have gone long because ABC could sell the ad spots for a premium price and make more money than if it started “Alias” earlier.
Mr. Sherman said the network was happy with the numbers and achieved its goal of exposing “Alias” to millions more viewers. It also gave the show its highest numbers ever in the audience it was trying to target-men 18 to 34.
ABC did have a bright spot with its tune-in for new late-night talker “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The Sunday night post-“Alias” debut hour scored a 5.4 rating and 14 share in the metered markets. (“Kimmel” currently airs in 48 of the 55 metered markets.) The special “Kimmel” airing attracted an average 4.9 million total viewers, 3.4 million adults 18 to 49 and 1.7 million adults 18 to 34. Compared with “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” which aired in the same position last year, “Kimmel” was up 62 percent among adults 18 to 49 and 132 percent among adults 18 to 34.
In its first three nights, Monday through Wednesday, in its regular time slot, “Kimmel” was averaging a 2.1/7 average in the metered markets. On average, “Kimmel” has improved ABC affiliates’ time period average so far this year by 11 percent.
For ABC the fallout from moving “The Practice” isn’t yet finished. The network is waiting to see if “Dragnet,” which was set to debut yesterday, can translate its big promotional push during the Super Bowl into viewers.
And Mr. Carroll said it’s too soon to judge ABC’s Monday night performance until Fox’s “Joe Millionaire”-which wasn’t even on the schedule when ABC announced its moves and has since turned into a huge hit-finishes its run in a few weeks.
Facing challenges
ABC also is in the unique position every year of having to reprogram Monday nights midseason after “Monday Night Football” ends, leaving the network with fewer time slots to try to launch new drama programming in the fall, Mr. Carroll said.
ABC launched four dramas this past September-“MDs,” “Dinotopia,” “That Was Then” and “Push, Nevada”-but all were canceled before the end of last year.
“Right now the problem that ABC faces is the problem any network in a rebuilding mode faces, which is that they need a couple of successes and there can’t be the same degree of patience that there might be at a No. 1 or No. 2 network,” Mr. Carroll said.
The network’s two highest-rated dramas in adults 18 to 49 are aging. “NYPD Blue” has been a proven winner in its Tuesday 10 p.m. time period, ahead of its nearest competitor by 12 percent, but the show is in its 10th season. “The Practice,” which was winning its Sunday time period with a 4.2/11 demo rating, is in its seventh season.
ABC currently has six dramas on its schedule, compared with 10 on CBS and 11 on NBC. Mr. Sherman said there is no set goal number of dramas to have on the network’s schedule.
Dramas take time
An executive at a competing network said six was a very low number to have on a schedule, considering that drama is a genre that’s working right now. “They have very few pieces to play with, and that was proven by their disastrous move of `The Practice,”’ the executive said.
So far, with drama ordering “very close to being done,” Mr. Sherman said ABC has ordered 11 drama pilots and is continuing to develop one other. CBS and NBC have both ordered 10 drama pilots so far this year.
Reality shows and young-skewing news specials have helped lift ABC to second place in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/11) after the first 18 weeks of the season, but those audiences haven’t flowed over to the network’s dramas. “The Bachelor” on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. regularly won its time slot in adults 18 to 49 but wasn’t a very compatible lead in for fall drama “MDs,” which was cancelled after eight episodes drew a 2.8/8 rating average in the demo.
The latest installment of that reality franchise, “The Bachelorette,” continues to draw big
numbers, but now leads into another reality show “Celebrity Mole: Hawaii.” Mr. Sherman said ABC just didn’t have a compatible drama to take advantage of the lead in, something the network is trying to correct next year.
“We have several dramas in development that we hope to potentially be players at Wednesdays at 10 [next season] if `The Bachelor’ stays at 9 o’clock,” he said.” We didn’t know going into this season what `The Bachelor’ was going to do.”
Despite the huge popularity of reality shows this year, Mr. Sherman said audiences still have an appetite for dramas, but it may take some time.
“Dramas are always very hard to get sampled,” he said. “It’s a bigger time commitment for people. I don’t know a show since probably `ER’ that’s come out of the gate as a huge home run.”