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The Strong Survive in Early-Season Ratings

Sep 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Only the biggest-name shows bucked the broadcast ratings erosion trend during the first official week of the fall season.
Even with twice as many people as last year able to delay viewing with digital video recorders, returning sure-fire hits such as NBC’s “Heroes,” Fox’s “House,” CBS’ “CSI” and ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” came back with strong overnight figures, averaging about 8 percent growth from last year’s debuts.
Among new shows, two freshman titles with the heaviest brand recognition—like NBC’s remake of “Bionic Woman” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice” —broke out with significant first-week returns. “Woman” earned a 5.5 rating among adults 18 to 49, while “Private” drew a 5.1.
For fresh-concept shows relying on media-generated buzz, the situation was more difficult. Shows like The CW’s “Reaper,” CBS’ “Cane” and NBC’s “Chuck” posted average ratings that held water in their respective time periods, but left executives concerned about how they’ll perform in the coming weeks.
Same goes for most veteran procedurals and medical stalwarts, which continue to post seasonal declines. “CSI: NY” was down 26 percent, “Criminal Minds” fell 22 percent, ABC’s “Boston Legal” was down 26 percent and NBC’s “ER” declined 40 percent. After shedding two cast members this year, “Grey’s Anatomy” also came back down 21 percent, though it still garnered the highest premiere rating of any show so far this season.
“I can’t complain when we’re winning most of the nights,” said Jeff Bader, ABC’s executive VP of scheduling. “‘Grey’s’ was a phenomenon last year, and the new Thursday-night race had a lot of press behind it. The premiere was comparable to what the show was doing last May.”
Last week also marked the second episode for several shows, particularly on Fox. The network’s “Prison Break” and freshman sitcom “Back to You” largely held up, although “K-Ville” (down 30 percent) and “Kitchen Nightmares” (down 22 percent) suffered drops in heavily contested time periods.
“This is the week we board up our windows and hunker in the corner and let the storm pass,” said Preston Beckman, executive VP for strategic program planning at Fox. “This is our low and everybody else’s high.”
CBS also had second-week feedback on “Kid Nation” and “Survivor: China,” which both dropped only 10 percent from their debuts despite increased competition.
As for ratings erosion on other shows, Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP, programming operations, described the week’s launches as “solid.”
“Not unusual in a premiere week for people to do a lot of flipping around,” he said. “We still have a very stable schedule. There’s no time period on here that we’re not competitive in.”
NBC executives were largely pleased with their week. “Bionic Woman” won the most hotly contested time period of the fall and a good-sized number of viewers stuck around for lead-out “Life.” The network will watch closely to see how many curious “Bionic” viewers return for the second week, which introduces actor Isaiah Washington to the cast.
“We’re happy to get out of the starting blocks in a good way,” said Vince Manze, NBC’s president of program planning, scheduling and strategy. “Lot of good e-mails going around.”
The CW got off to a rough sophomore start after electing to run repeats most of the summer. Critically praised “Reaper” had a modest premiere, “Gossip Girl” fell 25 percent in its second week and Sunday magazine efforts “CW Now” and “Online Nation” were nearly flatlining with a 0.2 and 0.3 rating, respectively. Linchpin “America’s Next Top Model” continued to perform well.
The CW magazine shows were among the few new programs to bellyflop out of the gate.
Fox’s Friday night docu-soap “Nashville” also floundered and was pulled from the lineup last week. The network replaced the program with “K-Ville” repeats.

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