Summer Series Fail to Produce Year-Round Sizzle

Aug 28, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The broadcast networks failed this summer to premiere an original series that can make the jump to the traditional TV viewing season.

While Fox saw solid ratings from returning entries “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance” and NBC enjoyed success with the fourth installment of “Last Comic Standing,” none of the summer network offerings are ready for the regular season.

“I don’t think any of these shows are on the level [where] ‘Dancing with the Stars’ was last year,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP director of research for Horizon Media.

ABC’s “Dancing,” a surprise summer hit for the network in 2005, graduated to the fall schedule last season and is returning for a third installment on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in September as a full-fledged component of the network’s 2006-07 schedule.

“Dancing,” of course, is hardly the only summer series of the past to make it to the big scheduling leagues. CBS’s “Survivor” and Fox’s “American idol” were both summer entries that took on much more significant scheduling responsibilities after they became ratings hits.

In fact, summer has in recent years become a fertile season for the networks to launch new shows with staying power. With the exception of 2004, at least one new prime-time hit with regular-season legs has been discovered during the summer every year since ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” took off in 1999.

While the broadcasters’ lack of summer sizzle may be disappointing, it’s not likely to hurt their chances for success in the fall, according to John Rash, senior VP and director of broadcast operations for ad agency Campbell Mithun.

“They haven’t significantly damaged their ability to get sampled by the relatively weaker summer ratings,” Mr. Rash said, “but a big hit could have invigorated a network, and that was nowhere to be found.”

The Fox Model

If broadcasters are looking for more success with their summer offerings, they should study Fox’s strategy, Mr. Rash said. That network is up 9 percent in its summer ratings over last year.

“The only surprise is the other networks haven’t stolen the page from Fox’s playbook of immediately premiering new shows after their May finales,” he said. “Other networks took it at a more languid place.”

That worked well for the top summer series, “Dance,” which was heavily promoted during the most recent edition of “American Idol” and premiered on the heels of “Idol’s” finale.

Fox wasn’t the only network to grow its summer offerings. NBC, tied with CBS for second place for the summer in adults 18 to 49, has grown its demo ratings 11 percent over last year with help from “Comic” and the variety series “America’s Got Talent,” according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

CBS is maintaining a solid summer, particularly among young adult viewers, with the return of its “Rock Star” franchise and the summer veteran “Big Brother.” ABC was less successful; three of its summer reality entries were quickly yanked due to poor ratings.

Despite losing on-air momentum from the failure of its summer reality, ABC isn’t in a weaker position than its broadcast competitors when it comes to promoting their fall shows over the summer, Mr. Adgate said.

“Viewers are attuned to the new season,” Mr. Adgate said of ABC. “They will do an effective job at promoting. I don’t really think that that is really disastrous. If they have good shows and get buzz, people will watch.”

Promo Venues Abound

The days are long gone when a network used only on-air promotions to tout a new series.

“There are so many other opportunities these days,” Mr. Adgate said, noting that the networks have been “very focused” on offering sneak peaks or even entire episodes of their fall shows on digital platforms such as Web sites and through iPods and other devices.

The broadcasters’ performances are in stark contrast with cable channels, which have launched a variety of new series this summer successfully, including Sci Fi’s “Eureka” and USA’s “Pysch.”

The cable performances might mean broadcasters will be open to introducing more scripted series and less reality next summer, Mr. Adgate said.

“I expect next year we may not see some of these shows returning that have been typical fare in summer months,” he said of the broadcast networks.