Coming, NBC’s bigger Thursday hurt
It's not just 'Chris,' either. Everyone's after a piece.
September 22, 2005
Two decades ago, NBC invented Thursday night as we’ve come to know it, Must See TV. Now, with the network in decline, all the others are mounting their most aggressive efforts to take what’s left of NBC’s audience.
It won’t be pretty.
Since the upfront, all the buzz has been about the debut of UPN’s Everybody Hates Chris, but NBC is at risk of losing viewers to a range of other shows as well.
Last season, its first without Friends, NBC’s Thursday 18-34 audience fell by a third, hurt further by sharp declines for “Joey” and “Will & Grace” as the season wore on.
The network remained No. 1 for the night, but those declines were not lost on its competitors. This season, ABC, Fox and the WB, along with UPN, are counter-programming with shows very much aimed at 18-34s.
In this squabble, CBS has the least to worry about, since it targets an older viewer. Standing above the fray, it will easily remain No. 1 among 18-49s for the night.
When the nets unveiled their schedules for the fall season ABC, Fox, WB and UPN had all made major Thursday night changes, putting some of their strongest prospects for next season on a night where most of them have historically not been aggressive, notes the fall preview from media buying agency Carat.
Sensing NBC’s vulnerability, UPN put its most-buzzed-about show ever on Thursday instead of, say, Monday. Chris will hurt Joey while buoying the network’s other programs that night.
By contrast, the other three networks are pitting established shows opposite NBC’s struggling ones, much the way CBS did so successfully with Survivor five years back.
They see vulnerabilities not only with Joey and Will & Grace but with Apprentice, which also lost audience last season.
ABC is moving cult hit Alias to Thursday at 8 p.m. The show won’t do nearly as well as last season, when it followed Lost, but it does have an extremely loyal core audience that will follow the show anywhere on the schedule.
ABC learned last year, as ratings for Alias fell in late spring, that it would probably never be a mainstream hit, so why not throw it onto a night where the network has struggled for years? Even a diluted Alias will better what ABC had there last year.
The same can be said for the WB and Smallville, which moves to 8. Fox’s The O.C. proved last year that younger-skewing shows can indeed thrive opposite NBC and CBS at 8.
As for Fox, it finally has a good companion for The O.C. in Reunion, which held most of the latter’s 18-34 audience in its debut two weeks ago. That will hurt Apprentice.
Whither NBC in all this? That will surely be the big question on the minds of media buyers in these coming several weeks. Buyers were shocked at May’s upfront when the network returned its waning Thursday schedule intact. Many wondered why the network didn’t move Will & Grace or Joey to Tuesday night and instead lead off Thursday with the promising My Name is Earl.
Further, they couldn’t figure out why a fading Apprentice was returning along with a new Martha Stewart version.
Several scenarios are possible. One is that the network thinks Donald Trump’s edition won’t last much longer anyway and is hoping to get a few more miles out of the show as it transitions viewers to its newest mogul, Martha Stewart, and her Wednesday edition. If Martha is a huge hit, the decline of Trump will be an acceptable loss.
Another is that the network is hoping that if Stewart is a hit, it will revive interest in the fading Trump edition, or at least stem the losses. A third is that NBC simply lacked anything to slide in place of Trump.
Regardless, Apprentice will be weaker, and that in turn will hurt 10 p.m.’s ER. NBC will fall out of first place among 18-34s on Thursday behind CBS and perhaps one of the other four upstarts, something that seemed unimaginable even last year.
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