ABC Sticks With Sked on Sundays

May 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Despite industry speculation to the contrary, ABC President of Entertainment Stephen McPherson said the network will not make any changes to its current blockbuster Sunday night schedule for fall 2005, keeping in place its current lineup of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Desperate Housewives” and its newest addition, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“We will come back with Sunday intact for the fall,” Mr. McPherson told TelevisionWeek last week.

ABC’s Sunday has evolved from a ratings backwater to one of the most valuable nights on television. The No. 1 network on Sundays in the 18 to 49 demographic, ABC scored a season-to-date Sunday night rating of 6.1 through May 8, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s the second-highest-rated night of the week in the demo, trailing only CBS’s Thursday (6.9).

In addition, Mr. McPherson said that after running 10 installments in four seasons, ABC will bring back reality relationship series “The Bachelor,” but will cut the number of editions shown during the coming year. ABC aired three installments during the 2004-05 TV season.

“I don’t see us doing three cycles,” he said.

“This season we did two good installments and one not-so-good,” he said, pointing out that the fall 2004 edition of the show with bachelor Byron Velvick “was not our strongest installment.”

Mr. McPherson, who has been with the network just over a year, said he understands why his predecessors relied so heavily on the series, which at one time was one of the network’s top-performing shows among young adults. But with “The Bachelor’s” declining ratings and the success of its Sunday dramas and Wednesday’s “Lost,” ABC doesn’t need to rely solely on a reality dating show to bring in advertiser-friendly viewers.

“I would have done the same thing,” he said of running “The Bachelor” multiple times in one season, “but I don’t think we have a need anymore.”

Fox’s “American Idol” approach, which holds the top-rated music competition to a once-a-season run, may be the way to go with “The Bachelor.”

“People make an event for it,” Mr. McPherson said of “Idol,” “and we can do that with `The Bachelor’ as well. People like to visit these shows. I don’t know if they want to live with them 52 weeks a year.”

Reality overexposure is not limited to “The Bachelor.” Even though “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: How’d They Do That?” has been a successful part of ABC’s post-NFL reality lineup this season, Mr. McPherson said his priority is keeping the Sunday night “Home Edition” strong.

“I don’t think you’ll see `How’d They Do That?’ coming back,” he said.

While fans of the show responded to the additional Monday footage, Mr. McPherson said it does not warrant a dedicated hour spot on another night.

“We’re going to do some two-hour specials, but the show is best served as a big Sunday night event,” Mr. McPherson said.

If It Ain’t Broke …

With the success on Sundays at 10 p.m. (ET) of both “Anatomy” and “Boston Legal,” which aired in the 10 p.m. slot during the fourth quarter of 2004, industry insiders suggested last week that ABC might make room in the post-“Housewives” hour for a new show, which would garner at least initial significant viewership solely from its lead-in. One possible contender mentioned was ABC corporate cousin Touchstone Television’s “Commander-in-Chief,” a pilot which is still considered high on ABC’s development list.

“Boston Legal,” a planted spinoff of last season’s time period occupant “The Practice,” improved on the network’s performance in the slot from last season by 48 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.9 versus 3.3). But “Anatomy” has an adults 18 to 49 season average of 7.8 in the time period, making it a top 10 show and beating CBS and NBC’s combined demo delivery at 10 p.m. Sundays (6.5). “Anatomy” is also the season’s highest-rated 10 p.m. show in the demo for any network.

“Boston Legal” has been renewed for the 2005-06 season, but Mr. McPherson declined to say where it might end up on the schedule. He also declined to comment on any pending series pickups or cancellations, but said even with Sunday night staying the same ABC has “launching pads we didn’t have before.”

Chief among them, he said, is Wednesdays at 9 p.m., after “Lost.” At the beginning of the season, ABC went with “The Bachelor” as the “Lost” lead-out, before switching Jan. 6 to “Alias,” which was on the bench for the fall. Initially a controversial move, ABC’s decision to shift “Alias” out of its Sunday 9 p.m. time period to make room for “Housewives” has paid off significantly for the network.

But even with some time periods’ ratings performances strengthened this season, Mr. McPherson said that the network shouldn’t “try to fix everything at once.”

He made marketing a top priority last year, when he focused on just three shows in terms of promo dollars for fall 2004-“Housewives,” “Lost” and the reality series “Wife Swap”-in the hopes of creating tentpoles to help raise ratings across the overall schedule.

The gamble worked. “Housewives” is the No. 1 new series of the season in total viewers with 23.3 million viewers and a 10.3 in adults 18 to 49. Despite competition from an “Idol”-driven Fox on Wednesdays, “Lost,” with a 5.6 rating in adults 18 to 49, is averaging the highest rating in the demo for any 8 p.m. drama on any network in seven years, while on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. “Wife Swap” consistently beats NBC’s “Law & Order” in adults 18 to 34.

Last year ABC tried some alternative forms of promotion. For instance, it advertised “Housewives” on dry cleaning bags and launched a “message in a bottle” campaign for “Lost” at a number of beaches.

Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, said that approach helped ABC.

“Smart marketing is something that really distinguished ABC from its competitors last year,” Ms. Sweeney said in an interview last week.

But now that ABC has greater audience attention, she said, the network is even more focused on marketing strategy. “We will have the conversation about focus [and] how we treat returning hits. What you can expect is more innovation, and not less.”