The Writers Guild of America’s strike released its grip on Hollywood more than eight months ago, but its effects still are trickling through television.
Several sophomore series whose first seasons were cut short by the work stoppage late last year are feeling the aftershocks of the strike now. Among shows returning to their 2007 time slots, ABC and NBC programs suffered particularly in the second week of the season.
The strike has jostled the returning season slightly overall.
For the first full week of the 2008-09 season, the five broadcast networks are down year-to-year about 6% versus the same time last year in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic. In average total viewers, this season started down 4% against last year.
Fox had the first cancellation of the season—“Do Not Disturb”—as well as the first back-nine order, picking up a full 22 episodes of “Fringe” last week.
ABC’s “Pushing Daisies,” “Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money” all returned Wednesday well below last season’s premiere numbers.
“Daisies” scored a 2.0 rating/6 share in 18-49, 55% off from its October 2007 debut. “Practice” slipped 39% and “Money” dropped 31%.
NBC also saw some dropoff among its shows whose seasons were stunted by the strike, with “Chuck,” “Heroes” and “Life” all declining.
“Heroes,” which premiered two weeks ago, last week stumbled 25% year-to-year. “Chuck” fell off by 28% and “Life” declined 33% from its start.
All six of those shows have been off the air for almost 10 months. Shows with shorter layoffs have done better. Comparatively, sophomore series “Lipstick Jungle” on NBC, a midseason replacement that ran until March, fell only 14% premiere-to-premiere.
Both networks gave all six shows strong promotional pushes. “Chuck” and “Heroes” put in major appearances at Comic-Con, while shows like “Money” and “Daisies” enjoyed magazine and billboard advertisements.
Beyond the writers strike, other factors are contributing to the declines. In the desire to avoid confusing viewers with time-slot shuffles, the networks have in some cases chosen to stick with old lineups.
One ABC executive said it made sense to bring back ABC’s 2007 Wednesday night slate as a block. Had the strike not occurred, those shows could have been shuffled around to improve their ratings.
Serialized dramas also presented challenges. An NBC executive said the structure of those shows made them more vulnerable to a long hiatus than, for instance, a self-contained half-hour comedy. Case in point: CBS’s Wednesday night comedy block gained in total viewers, the metric by which the network tends to perform best.
Another contributing factor that made this year’s sophomore premieres suffer by comparison to last year’s openings is the customary ratings surge reflected when viewers sample brand-new fare.
A different comparison, measuring this season’s premieres against last season’s final episodes, isn’t as bleak. Still, “Daisies,” “Practice” and “Chuck” suffered declines by that measure.