With the lackluster performance of Fox’s highly touted summer premieres, network programmers have begun to pull back from assertions that the 52-week season is just around the corner. But writing off summer debuts may be a bit premature, considering the unique nature of the current landscape and the individual successes the networks have already seen.
Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman addressed her network’s summer lineup during her Television Critics Association press tour presentation. The failure of the drama “The Jury” and reality show “Casino” make Fox’s glass look half-empty, but the success of the new comedy “Quintuplets” and the strong second season of “Simple Life 2” show the glass is half-full, Ms. Berman said.
“Going into the June premieres we said repeatedly we knew how hard this would be,” she said. “We were taking risks. We would start slowly and we would be patient. Remember, we came out of last summer with one hit. This summer we’ve already got more than one new show working for us, and that’s a win.”
Viacom Co-President and Co-Chief Operating Officer Leslie Moonves laid out CBS’s approach at his TCA press tour event last week. “Our strategy has been to air repeats of our quality shows, and to add to that a couple of our established reality success stories,” he said. The strategy has paid off, according to Mr. Moonves, who said the network is up 3 percent in viewers and 4 percent among adults 18 to 49. “I know the other one sounds more sexy and exciting,” he said of the summer premiere strategy embraced by Fox. “It only works if you have the shows to back it up.”
Mr. Moonves showed sympathy for Fox, saying postseason baseball gives the network a real challenge when it comes to being competitive in the November sweeps. “With baseball, it really is a hardship,” he said, “and they need to find a different way of doing business.”
“Light and breezy does well” in summer, said Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director for Horizon Media International, citing programming such as The WB’s “Summerland.” Mr. Adgate called Fox’s “The Jury,” which dealt with weighty legal topics, stuck all the action in a courthouse and featured no recurring characters, a show that probably would have done better with a fall launch. “I think it is perhaps a little too cerebral,” he said, for an audience in June.
Mr. Adgate also said judging whether Fox’s summer strategy worked is something that can’t be done yet, since the goal was to introduce shows to an audience so that they would be regular viewers by fall, when disruptive baseball pre-emptions, kick in. “The proof will be how well they do in November sweeps,” he said.
Summer has already given some well-needed cheer to ABC, which saw promise in the debut of the family drama “The Days.” NBC has also had some good numbers with the success of its reality offerings “Last Comic Standing” and “For Love or Money.” NBC is banking on seeing its ratings shoot through the roof with the Olympics in August, which prompted Mr. Moonves to plead with reporters at TCA not to write in September about how NBC was up for the summer. “Write about what’s going on right now,” he said. “`Amazing Race’ and `Big Brother’ both premiered strong this week.”
Mr. Adgate said the unique nature of this summer makes it hard for anyone to walk away with solid conclusions about summer programming. No network is launching a new show close to the Olympics, which explains why many of the premieres were front-loaded in June. “`The O.C.’ premiered Aug. 5,” he said of last summer’s big hit, noting that it may take a non-Olympics season to truly figure out the best way to program for the summer.