If you program a new show in summer, viewers will come-at least once.
That’s what early ratings results show after the first week and a half of summer, in which four broadcast networks launched 10 new shows-up from two shows last year. Most of the new shows improved their time periods’ performance over last year.
NBC jumped out of the gate by launching four unscripted series in the first week and a half of summer, and the network has seen early success with sampling. “Fame” won its time slot in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.5 rating and “For Love of Money” pulled a 4.7 rating, which is better than NBC’s regular scripted programming did in that time slot during May sweeps.
“Since the day sweeps ended it’s been an outstanding summer for NBC,” said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. “We had a clear strategy heading into the summer. Two weeks in, it’s completely paying dividends and working. We’ve successfully launched two new shows and successfully relaunched two shows from last summer [“Crime & Punishment” and “Dog Eat Dog”].”
While NBC is down 24 percent in adults 18 to 49 so far this summer, if you exclude the highly rated NBA basketball playoff games that NBC aired in that time frame last year, NBC is up 10 percent this year.
Mr. Zucker attributes their success so far to offering fresh reality programming rather than repeats of every series, since not every series repeats as well as a “Law & Order” or a “CSI.” “What you want to do is be better than where you think your repeats would be this summer,” Mr. Zucker said. “You want to be substantially better than where your repeats would be, because otherwise you should just run your repeats.”
Fox saw a strong launch of its “American Idol” spinoff “America Juniors,” which won its time slot with a 4.8/14 in adults 18 to 49-identical to what “Idol” premiered to last summer. “We were a little relieved because we already ordered another one for October,” said Preston Beckman, executive VP of program planning at Fox. “We’re feeling a little more confident that we have a show that can connect the dots to the next `American Idol.”’
“Keen Eddie,” the first scripted series to launch under Fox’s strategy of starting new scripted shows in the summer, didn’t fare as well. It dropped 33 percent of its “Juniors” lead-in and fell to third in its time slot with a 3.2 rating.
Mr. Beckman said they never expected “Eddie” to hold on to the entire “Juniors” audience and felt the show had respectable retention on an atypical night that included the “Miss Universe” contest on NBC and an “American Film Institute” special on CBS.
“Next week we’ll have an opportunity to see if it can hold onto more of the female audience,” he said. “You have to be patient with these shows, and we thought it was a respectable premiere.”
On CBS, the first episode of “Amazing Race 4” scored higher adults 18 to 49 ratings (3.7/12) than the debut episode of the past three editions.
And at UPN, which struggled throughout the season, summer has been a boon for its new reality series “America’s Next Top Model.” The show technically launched during the last week of sweeps but has steadily built the first two weeks of summer. It was up 31 percent in week three from week two in adults 18 to 49 (2.1/6 vs. 1.6/5) and pulled 4.1 million total viewers last week, up 29 percent from the week before.
Reruns no Problem
“When we were looking at scheduling the show during the season it just felt like between the way we would have to schedule it and when we would have to launch it, we would be cramming it in to fit the block of time that we had,” said UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff. “We really felt that the show could really break out, so we really wanted to launch it at a time when we thought there would be more opportunities for people to sample it. In hindsight it really worked out.”
Ms. Ostroff said they are talking about ordering a second edition of the series, which could be a midseason contender. “It’s great that this is creating some water-cooler talk because this is what we need,” she said.
However, with all the talk of reality shows’ injecting life into a network during the summer, a reality show doesn’t guarantee ratings gold in the short term or that it will help the network in the long term.
Repeats of Fox’s “That ’70s Show” beat the second episode of NBC’s “Fame” last week in adults 18 to 49, and CBS is up 12 percent in adults 18 to 49 so far this summer-that’s largely on the strength of repeats of regular series.
“Reruns aren’t a problem for anybody if they do well,” said Kelly Kahl, executive VP of planning and scheduling at CBS. “Summer is a time where a lot of shows get discovered.”
In fact, while NBC’s “For Love or Money” premiered to decent ratings, it came in second to repeats of CBS’s Monday lineup of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Still Standing” and “CSI: Miami.”
A repeat of freshman series “Without a Trace” on May 22 averaged 15.01 million total viewers-that’s 180,000 people more than the 14.83 million people who saw it when it originally aired during the regular season. It also retained 94 percent of its original audience delivery among adults 18 to 49.
“`Without a Trace’ is going to have a terrific summer,” Mr. Kahl said. “We are going to get some new viewers. Word of mouth is going to spread. It’s going to continue to do strong numbers over the summer and be in a better competitive position next fall.”
NBC plans to launch about a half-dozen more new series between now and August, which means there won’t be as much airtime to devote to repeats of freshman series that could expose them to new viewers. Mr. Zucker said he was comfortable with their strategy of airing reality series in the summer instead of many more repeats. “As far as our programming is concerned, we have figured out a way to expose virtually all of our new [freshman] programs in a way this summer that we are very content with,” he said.
However, Mr. Kahl makes the argument that a series that repeats with lower numbers shouldn’t automatically be yanked. “I think a show like `The Guardian’ should be on in the summer,” he said. “If it’s strong enough to be coming back in the fall, it should be strong enough to stay on in the summer with repeats. The audience wants to see some of these shows again or see them for the first time if they missed them.”
Mr. Beckman said repeats and reality fit into their summer strategy. Just like the network did during the year with “American Idol” and “24,” Fox is using a reality show “American Juniors” to boost a scripted show, “Keen Eddie.” “We’re not just throwing these things on without some kind of a plan,” Mr. Beckman said. “This summer is the template for how we get through 52 weeks and deal with baseball.”
He said they also want to see reality programs such as “American Juniors” and the upcoming “Paradise Hotel” come back if they’re successful.
Reruns of Fox’s sitcoms such as “That ’70s Show” and “Bernie Mac” have also been performing well so far this summer. Fox found a financial bonus when it decided to give viewers a preview of its fall Friday night lineup by airing reruns of two sitcoms from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and “Boston Public” from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“Until we set the schedule and moved [`Boston Public’] to Friday, that show probably was not going to even repeat this summer,” Mr. Beckman said. “From a financial point of view, our ability to keep `Boston Public’ on throughout July and August is a home run for us.”