Tuesday Night Fight

Sep 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Last season’s prime-time demo leader Fox and the evolving WB exhibited early promise last week, when all six major broadcast networks got jump-starts on the new season by rolling out series and season premieres.

The television season officially begins today, and the bulk of the networks’ new programming will kick off during the next few weeks.

Tuesday in particular marked shining moments for both Fox and The WB.

The top-rated show in adults 18 to 49 on Tuesday night was the second-season premiere of Fox’s “House,” which scored a 5.9 rating, more than

doubling its series debut last November and outpacing the No. 2 show for the night, its lead-in “Bones” (3.9) by 51 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research. “Bones” also performed for Fox, improving 86 percent over the year-ago time period premiere of the canceled reality series “Rebel Billionaire.”

The strategy of launching a new series and a high-profile sophomore before the official start of the season paid off, said Preston Beckman, executive VP of strategic program planning and research for Fox.

“The good news is we didn’t wait until after baseball to get our schedule going,” Mr. Beckman said, noting that postseason baseball in October disrupts Fox’s schedule. Last year the network waited to launch most of its fall offerings until after baseball concluded, a move that may have cost Fox early ratings as audiences established viewing patterns on other networks.

“We go into baseball with a much better sense about what’s working and what’s not and can make adjustments accordingly,” he added.

On The WB, the sixth-season premiere of “Gilmore Girls” on Tuesday gave the show its best season opener ever in adults 18 to 49 with a 2.8, and made the show the winner for the night in females 12 to 34 (4.7) and female teens (5.5). “Gilmore” lead-out “Supernatural” debuted with a 2.5, a 19 percent increase over the premiere of “One Tree Hill” in the time period last season.

The numbers were satisfying for the network, considering the competition, said David Janollari, president of entertainment for The WB.

“We’re really happy to see how strongly we performed, especially with that gigantic number for ‘House,'” Mr. Janollari said. “‘House’ showed us it’s a pretty bona fide hit now, and we held up.” Fox and The WB weren’t the only networks launching new programming last Tuesday. NBC premiered the 90-minute second-season debut of last season’s surprise reality hit for the network, “The Biggest Loser,” which scored a 3.3 in the demo. “Loser” dropped 20 percent from its October debut last season but grew 41 percent from its first half-hour to its last.

“We could see the audience still has a real appetite for the show, so we’re hopeful this show will give us a strong performance this fall,” Tom Bierbaum, VP of ratings and program information for NBC Universal Television Group, said, noting that the lower ratings this season could be attributed to fewer viewers watching television in mid-September compared with October, when viewership begins to rise.

On Wednesday at 9 p.m. Fox saw a much more modest debut for its new comedic legal one-hour “Head Cases.” The show scored a 2.3 rating in adults 18 to 49, down 15 percent from last year’s time period premiere average of 2.7 for the sitcom block “Bernie Mac” and “Method & Red.” The results weren’t unexpected, Mr. Beckman said.

“We spent a lot of our effort on ‘Prison Break,’ ‘House,’ ‘Bones’ and getting our Sunday going,” he said, pointing out that on Wednesdays, all six networks are introducing new dramas at 9 p.m. over the course of the season.

“We know it’s not in the easiest time period,” he said. “We just have to evaluate its performance prior to baseball.”

Besides coming in fourth in the 9 p.m. time period, “Cases” lost 23 percent of its lead-in, “So You Think You Can Dance,” the top-rated show in the demo at 8 p.m. CBS’s reality series “Rock Star: INXS,” which garnered a 3.2 in the demo, not only won the 9 p.m. time period but also won the night, a first for the modestly performing musical competition, which wraps up Tuesday.

On Monday, ABC’s second-season premiere of “Wife Swap” helped the network improve its pre-“NFL Monday Night Football” performance, with the family relationship reality series performing better at 8 p.m. than last season’s time period holder, reality competition series “The Benefactor.” “Wife Swap” scored a 2.6 rating in the adults 18 to 49 demo, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was a 13 percent increase over “The Benefactor’s” debut last season (2.3) and a win in the 8 p.m. (ET) time period over its all-repeat competition.

The premiere of “NFL Monday Night Football” was up 4 percent in the demo versus last year (7.9 versus 7.8), giving ABC an easy win for the night in adults 18 to 49 with a 6.3. Fox finished in second place Monday in adults 18 to 49 (3.5) with a repeat of “Prison Break” at 8 p.m. (2.4) and a new episode of the series at 9 p.m. (4.5). The new episode of “Prison” grew 15 percent over its performance last week, making it the highest-rated nonsports series for the night.

On CBS, Thursday’s premiere of the 11th installment of “Survivor” on Thursday scored a 6.6 in the demo, its lowest debut number since its inception in 2000. “Survivor: Guatemala” was also off 12 percent from last fall’s premiere.

But even with the year-to-year decline, “Survivor” won the night in all key demos. On Friday CBS was scheduled to air a special two-hour premiere of its new sci-fi series “Threshold,” and UPN was scheduled to launch “WWE Friday Night Smackdown!”

Last week UPN announced it is reshuffling its Thursday night sitcom block by putting “Love, Inc.” in the 8:30 p.m. time slot, behind the high-profile “Everybody Hates Chris,” which premieres Sept. 22.

This week NBC plans to premiere almost its entire schedule, while CBS is debuting more than a dozen shows. ABC will debut its high-profile “Invasion” and the second-season opener for “Lost.”

The WB announced this week that its new lawyer drama “Just Legal,” which premieres today, will get additional exposure on fellow Time Warner network TNT. On Oct. 3, an original episode of “Legal” will air on The WB at 9 p.m. (ET), followed by a 10 p.m. run on TNT, after a repeat episode of NBC Universal’s signature “Law & Order.”

“The notion of multiple exposures for any of our shows is a great thing for us to do,” Mr. Janollari said. “It’s not about cross-promotion. TNT will promote ‘Just Legal’ on its own service. It’s about hoping their audience will get exposed to a show we think is terrific.”