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Affiliates Assess Fall Fare

Thursdays, evening news up for grabs; football gets passed around 5/26/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

With the networks' major changes for the fall made public—Grey's Anatomy moving to Thursdays, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to Mondays—local affiliates are plotting out ways to capitalize on freshman programs and new lineups.

Most affiliate groups are banking on significant changes come September. NBC stations are hoping for a revival, while ABC outlets, despite enjoying a recent resurgence, continue to look for growth in the 10 p.m. slot. After months of anticipation, CW affiliates finally know their lineup. Only CBS and Fox outlets, meanwhile, can expect anything resembling consistency.

Here are four fall moves sure to impact local ratings races:

Thursday-night tussle

For years, NBC and CBS battled for TV's most lucrative night. Now ABC stations are in the game. With Grey's relocating and promising drama Six Degrees as its lead-out, ABC general managers have visions of automotive and retail dollars.

But the move is bittersweet: On Sunday nights, the monster duo of Desperate Housewives and Grey's made many ABC affiliates top-rated in that night's late news and provided a huge promotional platform for the week.

“We're going to miss that,” says David Boylan, general manager for WPLG Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, “but we understand Grey's needs to be used to pollinate a new 10 p.m. show.”

CBS stations will see a change, too, when James Woods drama Shark takes the 10 p.m. spot on Thursdays. Survivor and CSI stay put.

Against such competition, NBC will move the much anticipated Aaron Sorkin program Studio 60 from its Thursday slot to Mondays.

NFL's New Player

After a nine-year drought, the NFL returns to NBC with Sunday Night Football. Games start at 8:15 p.m. ET, which should keep late local news running close to on time. And huge audiences mean ripe opportunity to plug news.

ABC affiliates are ambivalent about Monday Night Football's moving to ESPN. Despite huge ratings, those games often delayed late news, hampering ABC stations for 16 weeks and, most important, during November sweeps.

While it won't mean MNF-size ratings, the network is adding Saturday-night college games.

“It still allows us a prime time platform to reach men,” says Joel Vilmenay, general manager of KETV Omaha, Neb.

UPN + WB = Successful Network?

The CW is playing it safe scheduling the best-of The WB and UPN and only one new drama and comedy. That will allow stations to focus on marketing their new identity, rather than introducing new shows. And a well-known lineup helps hook advertisers, too.

“Buyers say we need two to four books to see trends with new programs,” says Steve Shanks, general manager for WIWB Green Bay, Wis., “but we have shows with proven track records.”

Moving Everybody Hates Chris to 7 p.m. Sundays is getting mixed reviews. “There is some merit in kicking off the night with a good, solid show,” says WTVK Ft. Myers, Fla., General Manager Bill Scaffide, although several execs predict Chris will be moved to 8 p.m.

New Faces at Evening News

For the first time in almost two years, ABC, NBC and CBS will have permanent evening-news anchors. The newscasts are still big draws and provide a critical bridge between stations' own evening news and syndicated blocks.

NBC stations should feel secure with Brian Williams in first place, but second is up for grabs. CBS stations are eager to see Katie Couric's performance. ABC named Charlie Gibson as its new solo anchor last week. He starts this week; Couric doesn't take her seat until September. After that, the sampling begins.

Says WPLG's Boylan, “CBS has done a good job getting some buzz behind a daypart with very little buzz.”

E-mail comments to aromano@reedbusiness.com

 

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