Winter Is the New Fall as Debuts Crowd TV

Jan 11, 2009  •  Post A Comment

January may turn out to be the cruelest month for TV types this year, with a crush of broadcast and cable premieres threatening to forever change the rules of midseason launches.
Networks, particularly on the broadcast side, have long considered the winter months somewhat safer havens for debuting shows—at least compared to the traditional fall onslaught.
While the rise of Fox’s “American Idol” has made things more difficult, the first weeks of the year still generally provide a more hospitable environment for kicking off new shows.
Not any more.
After a lackluster fall that saw fewer broadcast premieres than usual—and a paucity of buzz for those series that did debut—networks have started throwing on fresh fare as frequently as an F-bomb on a Rod Blagojevich surveillance tape. More than 30 major new and returning series will debut before Valentine’s Day on broadcast and cable outlets. Add in some smaller cable series and the number swells to more than four dozen.
So much for the advantages of year-round programming.
This year, January is the new September—and DVRs everywhere (not to mention network marketing executives) will be struggling to keep up.
“The first quarter is going to be more like a fall launch for us,” ABC scheduling chief Jeff Bader admitted last month in an interview with TelevisionWeek.
One of the biggest woes for networks now is simply figuring out how to get their new shows on viewer radar screens. Fox marketing chief Joe Earley said it “absolutely has become a challenge” to stand out in midseason, particularly at a time when off-air marketing budgets have been trimmed due to the economy.
“When shows like ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ and even the first few years of ‘American Idol’ premiered, [midseason premieres were] strategic counterprogramming at a time when we could grab a share of voice,” Mr. Earley said. “Now, with so many series premiering over several weeks, January seems more cluttered than the fall.”’
Mr. Earley’s News Corp. colleague, FX President and General Manager John Landgraf, believes the January rush is due in part to the “writers strike, which delayed many shows … and because cable is ramping up.
“Seasonality has become much less meaningful in general as the broadcast networks have diminished in ratings punch,” he said. “Sweeps have become less important as well.”
How crowded are things going to get? Consider:
—This week will feature tentpole premieres virtually every night, from ABC Family’s “Kyle XY” (Monday) and “American Idol” (Tuesday), to A&E’s “The Beast” (Thursday), and Sci Fi’s “Battlestar Galactica” (Friday). Sunday will see the debuts of premium-cable buzz magnets “Big Love,” “The L Word,” “Flight of the Conchords” and “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” along with Showtime newcomer “The United States of Tara.”
—Some of the debuting shows sound alike. ABC Family just bowed season two of “Secret Life of an American Teenager,” while Showtime has its “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” Fox asks viewers to “Lie to Me,” while TNT responds with “Trust Me.”
—Even Saturday night, long considered a dead zone for original programming, is being impacted by TV’s winter blitz. CBS this weekend premiered “Game Show in My Head” on the generally moribund night. CMT thinks it can build a blue-collar night with Saturday reality shows “My Big Redneck Wedding” and “Gone Country.”
—And in an interesting twist, most of the January newcomers on the broadcast networks are in the reality space, while cable channels are emphasizing big scripted series with well-known names.
So far, TV’s January programming traffic jam doesn’t appear to have resulted in any early fatalities.
Last week, ABC snagged surprisingly strong ratings for its premiere of the NBC import “Scrubs.” NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” had one of its best season openers ever. And ABC Family’s “American Teenager” bowed to the network’s biggest audience ever.
Still, executives such as Mr. Earley and Mr. Landgraf are having to work harder than ever to get viewers to focus on their new shows. Saving shows for times other than the fall used to be a worthwhile strategy, but these days, not so much.
“In the fall, we’re mainly competing with other media outlets and ‘going back to school’ messaging, but for January, we’re competing with each other, retail, feature films, holiday music and traveling,” Mr. Earley said. “Compound that with the fact that viewing levels dip in December, undercutting the reach of on-air, publicity outlets go on hiatus during the holidays, and the off-air budgets have been cut due to the economy, and you can understand why building awareness—and then converting that to intent to view—is an uphill climb.”
Mr. Landgraf warned of what he calls “marketing fatigue,” which he argued can set in “virtually any week of the year any more.”
“Marketing, which is always timed to a day and date, is becoming less and less effective as the audience stops watching programs on a specific day and date and is constantly told that everything they want will be available everywhere at all times. This is a serious issue,” he said.
Indeed, Mr. Earley noted that while he’s a particularly impressionable media consumer, even he’s having trouble keeping up with the flood of shows.
“I’m someone who is open to marketing messages, always looking at billboards, magazines and commercials. I should be easy to reach,” he said. “There are a few shows coming on cable and other networks—shows I want to watch—but I was busy during the holidays and their premiere dates never sank in. One actually premiered without my knowledge. Fortunately, I had an old season pass on my DVR.”
Select New and Returning Series
(*Denotes new series)
Friday, Jan. 2
Miss America: Countdown to the Crown (TLC, 10 p.m.)
Saturday, Jan. 3
*Game Show in My Head (CBS, 8 p.m.)
*Treasure Hunter (Travel, 9 p.m.)
Sunday, Jan. 4
*Confessions of a Teen Idol (VH1, 8 p.m.)
*Superstars of Dance (NBC, 9 p.m.; two-night debut)
Rock of Love Bus With Bret Michaels (VH1, 9 p.m.)
Monday, Jan. 5
The Bachelor (ABC, 8 p.m.)
Secret Life of the American Teenager (ABC Family, 8 p.m.)
*Superstars of Dance (NBC, 8 p.m.)
*True Beauty (ABC, 10 p.m.)
*Dietribe (Lifetime, 10 p.m.)
Tuesday, Jan. 6
The Biggest Loser: Couples (NBC, 8 p.m.)
*Homeland Security U.S.A. (ABC, 8 p.m.)
Scrubs (ABC, 9 p.m.)
Nip/Tuck (FX, 10 p.m.)
Primetime: What Would You Do? (ABC, 10 p.m.)
Wednesday, Jan. 7
*13-Fear is Real (The CW, 8 p.m.)
Damages (FX, 10 p.m.)
*Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (TBS, 10 p.m.)
The Real World: Brooklyn (MTV, 10 p.m.)
Friday, Jan. 9
*Howie Do It (NBC, 8 p.m.)
Flashpoint (CBS, 9 p.m.)
Monk (USA Network, 9 p.m.)
Psych (USA Network, 10 p.m.)
Saturday, Jan. 10
My Big Redneck Wedding (CMT, 9 p.m.)
Sunday, Jan. 11
24 (Fox, 8 p.m.; two-night premiere)
Monday, Jan. 12
24 (Fox, 8 p.m.)
Kyle XY (ABC Family, 9 p.m.)
Man vs. Wild (Discovery, 10 p.m.)
Tuesday, Jan. 13
American Idol (Fox, 8 p.m.)
Wednesday, Jan. 14
American Idol (Fox, 8 p.m.)
Thursday, Jan. 15
*The Beast (A&E, 10 p.m.)
America’s Best Dance Crew (MTV, 10 p.m.)
Friday, Jan. 16
Friday Night Lights (NBC, 9 p.m.)
Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi, 10 p.m.)
Sunday, Jan. 18
Hole in the Wall (Fox, 7 p.m.)
Big Love (HBO, 9 p.m.)
The L Word (Showtime, 9 p.m.)
Flight of the Conchords (HBO, 10 p.m.)
*The United States of Tara (Showtime, 10 p.m.)
Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Showtime, 10:30 p.m.)
Monday, Jan. 19
Samantha Who? (ABC, 9:30 p.m.)
Paranormal State (A&E, 10 p.m.)
Wednesday, Jan. 21
*Lie to Me (Fox, 9 p.m.)
Lost (ABC, 9 p.m.)
Thursday, Jan. 22
Burn Notice (USA Network, 10 p.m.)
Saturday, Jan. 24
Gone Country (CMT, 8 p.m.)
Monday, Jan. 26
The Closer (TNT, 9 p.m.)
I Love Money (VH1, 9 p.m.)
*Trust Me (TNT, 10 p.m.)
*Eddie Griffin: Going for Broke (VH1, 10 p.m.)
Thursday, Jan. 29
Hell’s Kitchen (Fox, 9 p.m.)


  1. Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers,

  2. Sorry for the huge review, but I’m really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

  3. I agree with your thoughts here and I really love your blog! I’ve bookmarked it so that I can come back & read more in the future.

  4. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. 🙂

  5. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. 🙂

  6. Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

  7. Way to focus and straight to your point, i love it. Keep up the work people. Dont let anyone stop us bloggers.

  8. I really like the colors here on your blog. did you design this yourself or did you outsource it to a professional?

  9. I love the expression. Everyone needs to express there own opinion and feel free to hear others. Keep it up 🙂

  10. This is the best blog I’ve ever seen in my life! I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to share your this with everyone.

  11. I like this info presented and it has given me some sort of inspiration to have success for some reason, so thank you.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)