Comedies Snare Network Pickups

Oct 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Less than three weeks after the start of the 2005-06 season, the broadcast networks appear to have a few reasons to crack a smile about prime time, even though no shows have broken out immediately the way ABC’s “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” did last year.

In stark contrast to last season, the most high-profile early pickups this season have been some of the few new comedies that made it onto the network schedule this fall. In addition, at least one returning comedy saw its ratings perk up, a handful of new hours started to find their footing and three networks were up for the season in the adults 18 to 49 demographic.

Overall the six networks were up slightly from a year ago in both the demo and total viewers.

Last week NBC gave new Tuesday comedy “My Name Is Earl” a full-season pickup, while UPN tapped its new Thursday night family sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris” for an additional nine episodes, expanding its production schedule to an entire season. Both shows have earned critical praise and demonstrated the ability to draw viewers.

In its most recent airing last Tuesday, “Earl” was the second-highest-rated show for the night in adults 18 to 49, scoring a 6.0, an 18 percent increase over the previous week, according to Nielsen Media Research. “Earl” continues to hold the distinction of being the season’s highest-rated comedy in the demo for any broadcast network.

“Chris” has been less successful. In its third outing, the UPN comedy saw its second consecutive demo decline Thursday, dropping 8 percent from the previous week and 31 percent from its series premiere to a 2.2. But despite the week-to-week slippage, “Chris” is outperforming last season’s Thursday time period holder, professional wrestling, by 73 percent in adults 18 to 49.

While CBS planned special time period premieres for its new series “Criminal Minds” and “Threshold” and ABC shuffled its lineup over the past few weeks to air an encore of the second-season opener of its drama “Lost,” UPN did not change its schedule to add encore runs of its most successful fall show in the demo, “Chris.” Instead, the network was content with the show’s extensive marketing push before its premiere, in-flight screenings of the first episode and additional streamings of “Chris” on Google, said Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of programming operations for CBS and UPN.

“‘Everybody Hates Chris’ had an unparalleled marketing campaign,” Mr. Kahl said. “We got an extraordinary number of people to the premiere, so we didn’t feel it was worth blowing up our schedule to get ‘Chris’ increased sampling.”

The UPN strategy is to use encores of “Chris” later in the season, where additional airings could fill any holes that may appear if other shows fail to perform, Mr. Kahl said.

“You will see plenty of repeats of ‘Chris,'” he said. “We’re going to need those repeats at some point.”

One returning sitcom had a particularly good week. A special 60-minute season premiere of ABC’s “George Lopez” scored a 3.5 in the demo. That was a 47 percent drop in the time period from last season’s debut of “Lost,” but up 3 percent from “George’s” own Tuesday 8:30 p.m. premiere last season.

As the networks started giving votes of confidence to early performers and walking papers to some ratings-challenged series, there was some good news in the hour game as well.

On the drama side, The WB’s Tuesday horror series “Supernatural” got a green light for a full season. The new Tuesday night “Gilmore Girls” lead-out scored a 2.4 in its most recent airing, a 9 percent increase over its performance the previous week.

In contrast to “Supernatural,” four debuting dramas are already out of production. Last Thursday The WB canceled its Monday night buddy attorney drama “Just Legal,” and last Tuesday NBC removed the Friday night medical drama “Inconceivable” from its schedule. UPN’s soapy Tuesday drama “Sex, Love & Secrets” was cut early on, but all three shows were beat out by the first cancellation of the year, Fox’s “Head Cases.”

For the first 18 days of the season ABC was the top network in the demo, with a 4.3 rating, up 10 percent from the same time period last season. But despite ABC’s growth, Fox was the biggest year-to-year gainer, growing 25 percent in the demo to a 3.0.

While most new and returning shows had already debuted, last week marked the premieres of a few offerings, including CBS’s female-lead procedural “Close to Home” on Tuesday.

The series premiere of “Home” was last in the 10 p.m. (ET) time period with a 3.3 in adults 18 to 49, coming in behind NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” (6.2), the demo winner for the night, and ABC’s “Boston Legal” (3.6). But the prosecutorial drama improved CBS’s performance in the demo by 32 percent over the premiere of “Judging Amy” in the time period last season. “Home” also gave CBS its best number in the time period among women 18 to 34 number (3.4) since 2001.

“Home,” at least in its first airing, is accomplishing CBS’s goal of skewing younger in the time period, Mr. Kahl said.

“We know it got us younger off the top, and that’s what we said we wanted in May,” he said. “That being said, it’s one week. We think we could do better. Baseball, unfortunately, in week one throws things into question.”

Premieres and schedule changes helped define Wednesday, where NBC saw gains when it switched time periods for military drama “E-Ring” and the reality series “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.” The new 8 p.m. time period holder, “E-Ring,” scored a 2.5 rating in the demo, a 19 percent increase over both “Martha’s” performance the previous week and the show’s own performance in the week-ago 9 p.m. time period. At 9 p.m. “Martha” also garnered a 2.5 in the demo, improving both its time period and its own performance from the previous week.

The WB premiered its Wednesday schedule, with the returning “One Tree Hill” scoring a 1.7 in the demo, down 29 percent from “Smallville’s” year-ago performance at 8 p.m. The debut of “Related” at 9 p.m. was up 44 percent over last season’s “The Mountain,” hitting a 1.3. “Related” helped The WB grow its younger female audience in the time period, with a 69 percent jump in women 18 to 34 (2.2) and an 83 percent jump in females 12 to 34 (2.2).