TV season holds out for a hero


The first week of the 2007-08 TV season has left industry observers concerned about the absence of a breakout series.

Only two new shows, NBC's "Bionic Woman" and ABC's "Private Practice," have gotten out of the gate with enough ratings momentum to reach potential hit status.

Among returning series, such heavyweights as ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" remained dominant yet down from last year's heights. A few shows struck record premiere lows, including CBS' "CSI: Miami" and NBC's "ER."

With five days of the new TV season in the books, CBS and NBC were down in viewers and adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research, when compared with premiere-week 2006. ABC is ahead in viewers but down 5% in the demo. Fox was up single digits year-over-year for the first five days, but without a football overrun on Sunday this year, it likely will end up down across the seven-day average.

On Madison Avenue and Wall Street, estimates of the first week of the season varied from the harsh to the wait-and-see. Bank of America said in a research report that viewers "forgot to tune into the start of the new broadcast season," citing year-over-year aggregate 18-49 declines of 7% in live ratings.

But ad executives like Carat's Shari Anne Brill said that a full picture wouldn't emerge until the live-plus-7-day data — taking into account DVR viewership — is released by Nielsen. She noted a big difference in the percentage of DVR homes in the Nielsen sample: 20%, up from 9% last year.

"It seems irrefutable that there's not an overly strong societal buzz for the new season," said John Rash of Campbell Mithun. "The programs are not qualitatively as strong as previous seasons. What we need to watch the most is if the shelf life on existing dramas have shortened because so many have begun their decline earlier than the normal five-season (cycle)."

Added another ad executive of the broadcast networks: "They better be worried, very worried. The new season isn't starting well."

All the networks are projected to be down year-over-year when the week's ratings come out today. Sparks could fly as well given network projections issued Monday that showed ABC and NBC in a virtual tie for the win in adults 18-49. That would make NBC's controversial decision to rerun "Heroes" and be able to count the repeat as added viewership (and dumping the low-rated 8 p.m. Saturday hour) quite significant in the first week of the season.

Estimates varied on whether the additive value of "Heroes" would be more than a tenth of a ratings point in adults 18-49, making it difficult to determine the final outcome.

Few new series distinguished themselves last week. ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" (3.6/10) and "Big Shots" (4.5/12) didn't meet high expectations considering their strong lead-ins. CBS' highly promoted "Cane" (2.9/8) was beaten handily by NBC's "Law & Order: SVU," while NBC's "Journeyman" (3.5/9) couldn't do much with its strong "Heroes" lead-in and dropped by a million viewers between half-hours.

Faring slightly better was NBC's "Life" (4.0/11), winning 10 p.m. Wednesday in the demo against "Dirty Sexy Money" and the established "CSI: NY" (3.7/10).

The two top hits so far — "Bionic" and "Practice" — battle each other at 9 p.m. Wednesday. "Bionic's" 5.7/14 is the highest new-series premiere so far this season; "Practice" (5.2/13) is right behind it.

Hopes are high among the broadcasters that a breakout hit could be found among the October premieres, including ABC's critical fave "Pushing Daisies."

Horizon Media's Brad Adgate said that a lot of the declines have to do with viewer fatigue and perhaps creative execution on some shows.

"It's going to be a couple of weeks before things settle down and you start to see trending and time-shifted viewing and how well these numbers sustain over the course of a few weeks," he said.