With broadcasters at least partly concerned that February will draw the eyes of many to Turin, Italy, for NBC’s telecast of the Winter Olympics, January is being front-loaded with numerous high-profile series debuts and comprehensive schedule changes, making the midseason schedule look vastly different from the fall lineups.
For the past few years January has been a time of extensive change for Fox, which has retooled its schedule to accommodate its hit reality series “American Idol” and the real-time drama “24.” Those shows, along with the success of “House” in the post-“Idol” time period last season, pulled Fox out of its fall ratings doldrums and gave the network a win for the full-season race in the adults 18 to 49 demographic. But other networks, which in the past were more likely to focus on a few debuting midseason shows in select time periods, are now as willing as Fox was to throw out their scheduling boards and start over from the ground up.
NBC is moving its successful Tuesday 9-10 p.m. (ET) comedy block to Thursdays, while on the same night ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and The WB’s “Beauty & The Geek” are all the rage. In total, five nights of the week are seeing scheduling changes, with a dozen new shows being introduced in the next two weeks and another five returning series debuting in January.
Broadcasters have yet to find their new water-cooler show for 2005-06, so it’s no surprise networks are giving some of their debut offerings A-list time slots and the full-court promotional press, said Allison M. Johnson, associate media director of strategic resources for Zenith Media Services.
“The networks are all still looking for the new show that is going to pop,” Ms. Johnson said.
The success of midseason series last season is also driving the big changes this January, said Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director for Horizon Media.
“Last year every network had a midseason replacement show that wound up on the fall  lineup,” Mr. Adgate said, noting some of the classic reasons midseason premieres can be successful. “It’s sometimes easier to launch because you can more effectively counterprogram, and you can promote the show during higher viewing levels. A lot of the shows they were holding back were stronger than what they were premiering in September.”
When the top network for the season in the adults 18 to 49 demographic is likely to be decided by just a few tenths of a rating point, a single new hit show can make a difference.
“You can make an impact on your position in the ratings race,” Mr. Adgate said.
Last week featured some notable debuts, but most premiered up against a raft of repeats and audience-skewing college football telecasts. On Jan. 1 ABC ran a special premiere of “In Justice” in the post-“Desperate Housewives” slot, which won the 10 p.m. hour with a 4.0, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was still down 44 percent from the “Grey’s Anatomy” premiere last March. On Tuesday, back-to-back episodes of NBC’s “Scrubs” took over for the migrating “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office,” scoring a 3.8 rating in the demo at 9 p.m. (ET) and a 4.0 at 9:30 p.m. NBC took second place for the night in the demo, eclipsed only by ABC, which telecast the Orange Bowl (6.3).
On Wednesday ABC dominated in adults 18 to 49 with the Rose Bowl, which was the most-watched bowl championship series game in 15 years. NBC was again the No. 2 network, with the two-hour premiere of “The Biggest Loser: Special Edition” at 8 p.m. scoring a 3.6. “Loser” grew 40 percent from its first half-hour to its last, finishing second.
The first night of NBC’s new Thursday comedy lineup and ABC’s reintroduction of “Dancing With the Stars” showed promise.
At 8 p.m. NBC’s “Will & Grace” scored a 3.5 in the demo in the preliminary national ratings, which was even with its yearly average and 17 percent higher than the currently benched “Joey’s” average in the time period. The debuting “Four Kings” outperformed “Will & Grace’s” average with a 4.2, while at 9 p.m. “Earl” hit a 5.2, down from its 5.5 average on Tuesdays but above the time period’s fourth-quarter average of 4.6. At 9:30 p.m. “The Office” underperformed the time period’s fourth quarter average but hit a new series high with a 4.5.
On ABC, the two-hour premiere of “Dancing” at 8 p.m. hit a 4.7 in adults 18 to 49 in the preliminary national ratings, outscoring the combined average of former time period holders “Alias” and “Night Stalker” by 119 percent. However “Dancing” was down 8 percent from its June 2005 series debut.
Despite all the new programming, CBS, which ran a repeat of “CSI” at 8 p.m., an original “CSI” at 9 p.m. and an original “Without a Trace” at 10 p.m., easily won the night in the demo with a 6.8, compared to No. 2 NBC (5.0) and No. 3 ABC (4.1).
But making any assumptions about the performance of debuting or newly rescheduled shows from last week would be a mistake, said John Rash, senior VP and director of broadcast operations for ad agency Campbell Mithun. “One week does not a season nor a midseason make,” he said.
Networks’ January Moves
Includes series premieres (in bold), returning series debuts and major rescheduling
at 9:30 p.m.
Note: The networks made no changes in weekend lineups.