Scheduling gimmicks may dilute hit shows’ impact

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

While putting too many reality series on the air at one time can turn off viewers, expanding hit shows by episodes or hours has risks of its own. Everybody remembers how ABC scheduled four nights of its hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? which diluted its effect and eventually killed the show, since viewers said enough is enough.
After American Idol started its current run, two finalists were added to create a final 12 instead of a final 10, which extended the series for two more episodes and carried the show through to the end of May sweeps. In the past two weeks, Idol has expanded its Wednesday results show to an hour. It also added an extra hour to several episodes of the Tuesday competition shows. Fox’s head of scheduling, Preston Beckman, said the show was expanded for creative and competitive reasons. He said Fox didn’t ask for the two extra episodes. “It wasn’t done for any reasons other than the talent pool,” he said.
The producers of the show wanted to include more performers in the finals, which required longer competition shows to be able to fit in all the planned segments.
Locked in a tight race with NBC for first place among adults 18 to 49 (4.5/12 vs.4.2/11), Fox is also able to use the show strategically to maintain its position, which is what it did by expanding the Wednesday results show by another half-hour the past two weeks. “Over the last two weeks with CBS’s putting Survivor on [Wednesday] night, we did it for self-preservation,” Mr. Beckman said. “[The first week] we didn’t think it would have been wise for us to have a repeat ’70s Show against an original episode of Survivor when we could have American Idol there.”
NBC’s head of alternative programming Jeff Gaspin said NBC expands the length of Fear Factor based on the competitive landscape and quality of the content. “We shoot so much in reality [shows], and the truth is for every hour you put on, there’s about five or six hours that have actually been shot,” he said. “You always have the ability to expand. The question is do you have the quality content? We look at the competitive environment and as programmers decide we can use 90 minutes this particular day.”
However, other networks have resisted. CBS’s Survivor is in its sixth incarnation and it rarely expands past its hour length, with the exception of the finale and, this season, an 10-hour debut edition.
“Our ratings are still unbelievably strong,” said Kelly Kahl, CBS executive VP of program planning and scheduling. “In addition to providing what we consider a really entertaining broadcast, we’re aided in the fact that it still seems special because we don’t air it 52 weeks a year. We keep it to one special hour a week. The conventional wisdom here is you really don’t want to mess with a winning formula.”