ABC Takes Narrow Lead in New Season

Oct 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

ABC holds a narrow lead for the season in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, thanks to freshman drama “Pushing Daisies” and the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Pri­vate Practice,” which are helping the network conquer heavily con­tested Wednesday night.
Only half a rating point separates ABC from third-place CBS in the demo, with NBC sandwiched in between.
“Practice” overthrew NBC’s top-rated new show, “Bionic Woman,” in their second airings, with “Bionic” falling sharply from its debut and “Practice” dipping only marginally. Combined with a strong premiere for “Practice” lead-in “Daisies” and a decent-performing second episode of “Dirty Sexy Money,” ABC made gains in its efforts to add Wednesday to its win column this fall.
As ABC did last year when it pushed its chips to the center of the table by putting “Grey’s Anatomy” head-to-head against top-rated “CSI” and conquered Thursdays, the network took a scheduling risk this season by placing a trio of freshman shows on Wednesdays without the benefit of usual anchor “Lost” (which returns in February).
Last fall, ABC led on Wednesday out of the gate, but ceded the night to CBS when “Lost” went on early hiatus. This time, ABC wants to maintain ownership of the night for the full season.
“It does look like it’s a real night for us,” said Jeff Bader, ABC’s executive VP of scheduling. “Our goal was to have a night that would play more consistently throughout the season. The other day we were joking, ‘What if there’s no place for ‘Lost’?”
The early returns are encouraging for ABC, but the night remains up for grabs.
The artful “Daisies” has divided viewers, and analysts are uncertain if its early strong performance will hold up. Its 4.3 rating among adults 18 to 49 was the best 8 p.m. premiere this season. “Bionic,” which fell 30 percent in its second week, could stabilize and remain a strong contender for NBC. CBS’ “Criminal Minds” continues to lead among total viewers for the evening, while the second week of the season showed some viewers are trickling back to CBS’ stable lineup of self-contained dramas after sampling new shows.
Its Wednesday strength helps give ABC a slim lead at this early point in the season, averaging a 3.9 rating among adults 18 to 49 to NBC’s 3.8. CBS has a 3.4, Fox a 2.9 and The CW a 1.2.
All the networks are down compared with last year, with drops ranging from 3 percent (NBC) to 15 percent (CBS).
Few are taking any of the numbers at face value given the increase of DVR penetration from 8.5 percent last fall to 19.6 percent this season. All are waiting for the first round of “live-plus-three” Nielsen returns due later this month, which will incorporate live viewing plus DVR playback within three days of airing.
“I really want to see some kind of live-plus,” said Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of programming operations at CBS, who also was speaking on behalf of The CW. “We’ve seen some [DVR-inclusive] information so far, and it’s at least as powerful, if not more powerful, than we thought.”
NBC, which came in third place last fall, got off to a rousing start this season aided by “Sunday Night Football” and the premieres of “Bionic Woman” and “Heroes.” Though the new shows “Journeyman,” “Life” and “Chuck” are still performing decently, the drop for “Bionic” was worrisome.
“We over-delivered last week,” said Vince Manze, NBC’s president of program planning, scheduling and strategy, about the show’s premiere numbers. “You start believing your own press. The awareness and tracking on ‘Bionic’ was huge. We lost some older viewers this time, since it’s not your father’s ‘Bionic Woman.’”
CBS had a mixed week, with controversial reality series “Kid Nation” and new drama “Cane” continuing to fall, but returning procedurals like “Minds,” “CSI: NY,” “NCIS” and “The Unit” rebounding.
“We hit some unusual stuff in week one with Ken Burns’ ‘The War,’ people just getting back into watching television and obviously a healthy dose of new shows,” Mr. Kahl said. “But the pattern of week two is very encouraging.”
Fox’s story changed little during its third week (the network’s shows launched a week earlier than most), with “House” continuing to impress and “K-Ville” and “Back to You” continuing to slide. “Kitchen Nightmares” rebounded somewhat, however.
“We have to wait until the dust settles,” said Preston Beckman, executive VP for strategic program planning at Fox. “We think we will start to see some growth year-to-year. We want to get ‘K-Ville’ back up to a respectable number.”
The CW continued to have a difficult sophomore start.
Last year the network had to struggle to establish itself as a new channel with few new shows. Armed with a promising trio of critically praised new programs, the network has endured a succession of disappointing premieres that continued last week with “Aliens in America” debuting to a 0.8. The network is down slightly among adults 18 to 49 and in its target 18 to 34 demographic.
As far as this season goes, Mr. Kahl said the story isn’t told until the DVR numbers are in.
“The only way I know to judge performance is relative to lead-in,” he said. “And in each of those cases, they’re acquitted themselves well.”

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