Local TV

Rookie Hits and Misses Fall Into Place for Affiliates

NBC’s prime is still suspect, but at least the tale is not 'Grimm' 10/10/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Just as it does for some football teams, TV’s fall season starts with
promise, though each successive week—for certain networks and shows—
reveals increasingly disheartening numbers. NBC affiliates were hopeful that
a change in network ownership, and a vow to return the Peacock to its glory days
would boost primetime ratings—not to
mention the stations’ lucrative late news
programs that follow. While the early returns
don’t thus far show breakout hits,
general managers at NBC stations around
the country say the primetime schedule at
least looks stable, with a few rookies such as
Whitney offering potential to shine.

“The stability is there—we’re not seeing a
total lost season,” says Kym Grinnage, vice
president and general manager at WWBT
Richmond. “We won’t have radical success,
but NBC said it would be more of a gradual
move to make it better. I think that’s what
we’re seeing.”

While every network, and their affiliated
stations, has major anticipations for fall, perhaps
no affiliate bodies hold higher hopes
than NBC, with entertainment chief Bob
Greenblatt calling the creative shots as the
network tries to fight its way out of an interminable
primetime slump, and Fox, with big-swing debutantes such as The X Factor
and Terra Nova trying to do in autumn what American Idol does in the winter.

Things are quieter with CBS affiliates, which enjoy a glut of returning ratingsgrabbers
in primetime. Bob Totsch, vice president and general manager at KCTV
Kansas City, says it’s been an “extraordinary” start to the season, with 2 Broke Girls
among the rookie standouts. Totsch says he suspects audience share is up 5-7% over
the same period last fall, with the likes of Two and a Half Men and The Mentalist doing
their usual heavy lifting. “Some of the other stations have to wait and see what
happens with their new shows,” he says. “We’re looking pretty solid.”

Some ABC affiliates seem pleased too, as the likes of Revenge and Suburgatory ease
into the new schedule. The affiliates have pushed the network to strengthen the
hour leading into their late news, and early returns suggest ABC has listened. “The
biggest and best news has been 9-10 p.m. Central,” says Stuart Kellogg, president
and general manager of WAPT Jackson (Miss.). “I can’t remember that time being
stronger across the board. It seems like ABC has built pieces that fit well.”

Fox affiliates do not seem worried about the underwhelming national
ratings that marked The X Factor’s premiere, saying local numbers were
robust. They were also tickled to see comedy New Girl put up a strong
early performance. “I’m very pleased with the buzz I’m hearing in the
community,” says Tim Black, general manager at WEVV Evansville
(Ind.), which runs the new “Fox44” on its multicast channel.

The Fox affiliate body has endured exceptionally difficult battles with
the network over affiliation fees, which raises fall expectations even more. So far, so
good, say multiple affiliates.

“It’s a significantly improved fall schedule over last year, top to bottom,” says Kelvin
Mize, vice president and general manager at WTNZ Knoxville (Tenn.), where New Girl
opened to a “very good” 8 household rating.
“The new primetime is a good news lead-in.”

Mize adds that more baseball postseason
games will air outside of primetime this month
on Fox, giving the young shows a better
chance to build continuity.

The optimism is more muted in the NBC
family, where just a year ago, hopes were high
for the likes of The Event and Chase. While
Whitney and Up All Night got full-season orders
last week, dramas such as Prime Suspect
and The Playboy Club—the latter earning the
ignominious distinction of being the fall’s first
casualty—have had a tougher time. NBC affiliates say all the networks have upped their
fall games considerably, filling the schedule
with unenviable slots for new shows.

“Competition is pretty doggone tough,”
says Nick Ulmer, vice president and general
manager at WFIE Evansville. “I’ve been doing
this for 30-something years, and it’s a
real tight four-way race. It didn’t used to be that way.”

Numerous NBC affiliates around the country are clinging to shrinking leads in late
news, which typically represents 20%-25% of their news revenue, amidst NBC’s perennial
primetime woes. Affiliates applaud NBC for getting back into the comedy business
through the likes of Whitney and Up All Night, both of which opened to respectable
6 household ratings/8 shares on WWBT Richmond. Such a move shows that Comcast–
NBCUniversal is intent, they say, on returning NBC to the Must-See TV days of yore.
“They’d gotten so far away from that with dramas and reality,” says Dale Woods, vice
president and general manager of WHO Des Moines. “This is a great place to start.”

While the NBC rookies may not be showing breakout status, affiliates say other
primetime players are more than pulling their weight—none more so than Sunday
Night Football
, which they describe as everything from “a monster” to “absolutely
phenomenal.” “Thank God for Sunday Night Football,” says Grinnage.

NBC affiliate execs also single out summer hit America’s Got Talent and warhorse
Law & Order: SVU, and offer some optimism for twisted fairy tale Grimm, which
will premiere on Oct. 28. Then there’s the Super Bowl early in 2012,
along with a new installment of The Voice, and the Olympic Games in
London next summer.

NBC’s struggles to mint primetime hits may persist. But all things considered,
affiliates say it’s still a very good network to partner with. “I’m
confident that NBC is going in the right direction,” says Ulmer. “I see the
light at the end of the tunnel, coming out of a dismal five or six years.”

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