Off-net and off-the-mark
Cable's reruns, from Larry Sanders to X-Files, aren't hitting Nielsen paydirt
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/20/2002 8:00:00 PM
Bravo was counting on The Larry Sanders Show to bring in new viewers, not chase the old ones away. Acquiring Larry Sanders is part of Bravo's effort to broaden its audience and still please its loyal core. In its first two weeks on air, though, Larry Sanders under-delivered Bravo's prime time average. The show averaged a 0.17 rating, while Bravo averaged a 0.3 in prime in the third quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research. Bravo, which plunked down about $225,000 per episode for Larry Sanders, was expecting twice the rating.
|Cable's off-net woes|
|Cable networks had high hopes for reruns of broadcast hits. Here's an early scorecard:|
|*Bravo's switch to a dual feed on Sept. 30 caused some Nielsen reporting inaccuracies.
Source: Nielsen Media Research data for first two weeks after series launch
|A&E||Third Watch||Sept. 1||0.80|
|Bravo*||The Larry Sanders Show||Sept. 30||0.17|
|TNT||Law & Order||Sept. 2||2.20|
|TNT||The X-Files||Oct. 1||0.90|
|Sci Fi||The X-Files||Oct. 1||0.60|
|Sci Fi||Stargate SG1||Sept. 30||1.20|
Bravo isn't the only cable network sweating modest marks for recent acquisitions of reruns. A batch of broadcast shows have hit cable since September, including CSI, Third Watch and Seinfeld, and each is suffering varying degrees of ratings woes. All came with hefty sticker prices, ranging from $225,000 per episode for The X-Files on TNT and Felicity on WE to the $1.6 million per show TNN is paying for CSI.
Sometimes even proven shows just don't work. "A show's life and death have to be diagnosed," said TNT General Manager Steve Koonin. "It has to be the right show, surrounded by the right shows, scheduled properly and promoted."
In its initial HBO play, Larry Sanders was a critical favorite with a cult following. But an acquired show needs to fit with its cable home, and, while research execs believe it will grow, it's a disappointment now.
CSI may be red-hot on CBS, but it's building slowly on TNN. After four weeks, CSI averaged a 1.4 rating at 11 p.m. on Mondays. It's precariously scheduled after WWE Raw, TNN's highest-rated show. Despite double-digit gains in the time slot, CSI loses half the Raw audience.
"CSI is not the appropriate lead-out for wrestling," said Initiative Media's head of research Stacey Lynn Koerner. "It's more adult and sophisticated."
"They are paying a lot of money to air that show in the middle of the night," remarked one industry executive, noting that, by contract, CSI can't run in prime on TNN. The network says the show's making money and hitting rating targets.
Of course, September is probably the worst time of year for a cable to launch any new show. Cable may own the summer, but the broadcasters reign over the fall season. "The broadcast promotions machines are huge. Cable cannot out-shout the networks," said Lifetime's research chief Tim Brooks.
Optimistic cable execs point to week-to-week ratings gains for the new syndicated shows, as broadcasting's premiere-season hoopla settles down.
"It takes a quarter to see what's going on," said Turner Broadcasting's research chief Jack Wakshlag. "The next quarter, you expect it to outpace what show it replaces."
After a few years on FX, The X-Files moved to Sci Fi and TNT on Oct. 1, where it's earning better marks. Still, "there's going to be some viewer confusion. The day before X-Files debuted on Sci Fi, it aired on FX," said Sci Fi Senior Vice President of Acquisitions Thomas Vitale. "Viewers are beginning to find it."
TNT is paying less—$225,000 per episode for fringe and late-night plays to Sci Fi's $325,000 for prime time—and, so far, posting slightly better numbers. But, on both channels, X-Files collects below-average ratings.
Long-running shows like The X-Files and Seinfeld have been played in so many cycles—broadcast, syndication and now cable—that all that exposure erases some of the demand, industry execs say. TBS is paying $1 million per episode to air Seinfeld twice daily in fringe, and ratings hover around 1.0. Disappointing, but not devastating. "Good shows will catch on," Wakshlag said.
Like its sister net Bravo, WE got into the acquisitions game to attract new eyeballs. With Felicity, the audience is slight, with a 0.2 average, but nearly 20 years younger than WE's 50-ish median viewer.
"That's why we bought it," said WE chief Martin Von Ruden, "and that's what it's doing for us."
In contrast, marquee shows like Law & Order or CSI can boost household ratings. Both are buoyed by the fresh run of episodes currently airing on NBC and CBS.
A&E has taken some heat for its Third Watch acquisition, which it bought for $700,000 per episode soon after losing Law & Order to TNT. But A&E, which has suffered a string of recent original-programming woes, staunchly believes its 11 p.m. show will catch on.
What is immediately clear is that A&E's Law & Order loss is TNT's gain. The NBC drama was always a workhorse for A&E; TNT expected no less. Law & Order is averaging an impressive 2.2 rating on TNT and regularly pops up in cable's 100 top-rated shows each week.
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