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Five weeks into the fall season, broadcasters have managed tomaintain strong ratings for an eclectic collection of new showsthat drew large debut audiences. Fox’s “Glee,” ABC’s “ModernFamily,” the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” and CBS’ “NCIS: LosAngeles” have continued to impress, and that’s but a partial listof promising newcomers.
With these freshman success stories, one might think broadcast would have climbed in the ratings overall. It hasn’t. Three networks are down comparedwith last year — partly because of the effect of DVRs, partlybecause of top-rated veteran shows losing traction and, in the caseof NBC, partly because of the loss of dramas at 10 p.m. and no newbreakout hits.
The report card for the fall season so far:
The pieces of its schedule have snapped into place with precision:Putting “NCIS: LA” after “NCIS” — click. “The Big Bang Theory”with “Two and a Half Men” — click. Pairing “The Mentalist” with”CSI” — well, that’s more of a clunk.
The network known for ratings stability is matching last fall’sperformance in the adult demographic while posting a slight gain intotal viewers.
“The network that appears to be most successful this fall is CBS,”said Bill Carroll, vp and director of programming at KatzTelevision. “They had a solid lineup going into the fall, andthey’ve had success with their new shows for the most part.”
But even as “The Good Wife” and “NCIS: LA” have solidified theTuesday lineup, the most dramatic moves were from veteran shows.Monday’s “Big Bang Theory” has overtaken “Two and a Half Men” asTV’s highest-rated comedy, and “NCIS” unexpectedly became themost-watched drama during its seventh year. “NCIS,” not “CSI,” isarguably the network’s premium crime drama brand.
The biggest challenge for CBS is bolstering Sunday night dramasafter freshman “Three Rivers” and veteran “Cold Case” haveunderwhelmed. A trickier issue is Thursday flagship “CSI,” whichhas weakened alarmingly.
“The next case for ‘CSI’ might be finding its missing audience,which has made ‘The Mentalist’ not pay off the way it should have,”said John Rash, senior vp at ad agency Campbell Mithun.
The strongest network in the spring has long been weak in the fall,sometimes ranking fourth until January.
But look now: The Rupert Murdoch-owned net is up 10% in the adultdemo, placing second in the ratings race long before Simon Cowelland company show up to save the day.
“They’re doing better than anticipated, having become morecompetitive in the fourth quarter,” Horizon Media’s Brad Adgatesaid.
Not only has the net launched two scripted hits with “The ClevelandShow” and “Glee,” but also they’re two of the youngest-skewing newshows. Also, the move of “So You Think You Can Dance” to the fallmight not have made the biggest ratings splash, but the showoccasionally has bested ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and provided”Glee” with a great lead-in. (Just wait until Fox pairs “Glee” with”American Idol.”)
The network also has gained traction Thursdays by moving scripteddramas “Bones” and “Fringe” into the competitive fray — though inthe case of “Fringe,” which has been getting beat up in theratings, the move has come at a price.
The sophomore drama “Lie to Me” is squandering more of its “House”lead-in, and Fridays continue to be an evening of tax write-offs.
ABC got a raw deal this fall.
The gauge for a fall victory used to be launching one new hit.
TheAlphabet has launched three shows that have stabilized withimpressive numbers (and none is a spinoff thank you very much).
Two of the breakouts are comedies, a genre the network has beentrying to crack for years.
Still, ABC has dropped in the adult demo nearly as much as NBC,partly because of such sagging veterans as “Dancing With the Stars”and “Desperate Housewives” and partly because of strugglingnewcomers including 10 p.m. dramas “Forgotten” and “Eastwick.”
The Wednesday night comedy block has been put together in preciselythe right order: the strongest, “Modern Family,” at 9 p.m.;runner-up “Cougar Town” right after; and the weakest, “Hank,”launching the night into the middling “The Middle.”
“They made a very smart play on Wednesday night,” said JackMacKenzie, executive vp at Magid Associates. “When you launch thatmany comedies, they’re not all going to work, but everything so farsuggests it’s going to pay off.”
Also notable is “Private Practice,” a one-time bubble show that’snow one of ABC’s top-rated dramas, beating CBS’ “Mentalist” onThursday nights.
With no breakouts and “The Jay Leno Show” trending downward, NBC is running low on rationalizations.
“Trauma” and “Mercy” have been modest performers, the cancellationof “Southland” sullied the network’s reputation among writers,aging procedurals like the “Law & Order” franchise have dipped,and “Leno” has not found its ratings bottom.
“As Jay Leno goes, so goes the network,” Carroll said. “Leno hasbeen struggling. The rest of the lineup, even the returning shows,have not reached their previous levels.”
“The Biggest Loser” continues to impress, and “Sunday NightFootball” is a ratings driver and a vehicle to promote other shows.But those are not enough.
” ‘Leno’ is working for NBC accountants but not for NBC-affiliatenews directors,” Rash said. “Right now, the network’s success isdependent on football and reality TV — and football ends inJanuary.”
That said, the new Thursday comedy “Community” feels like a growthvehicle if one turns a blind eye to its ratings during a tough timeperiod, and once rivals go into repeats against “Leno,” NBC’syear-round strategy with the talk-show host could begin payingdividends that are apparent to network outsiders.
“Vampire Diaries,” “Vampire Diaries,” “Vampire Diaries.”
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this Thursday night series to the CW. The network desperately needed a hit in its target demo, and”Diaries” is just the ticket, jump-starting a highly competitive slot.
The CW has been laser-focused on contemporary soaps since thesuccess of “Gossip Girl,” but it is this hybrid entry –paranormal/fantasy drama — that has become its breakout success.With that in mind, the network might reconsider shuttling genreseries “Smallville” to Fridays this season, where the once-strongshow has lost a significant portion of its ratings.
The CW also gains the most percentage-wise when DVR use is takeninto consideration — a point the network often makes and that adbuyers agree is significant.
“If you have to pick one network where you can’t just look atlinear ratings, it’s them,” Adgate said.
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