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It's December. Why Are These Shows Here?

Unlike in most seasons, broadcast networks are sticking with new series and showing more patience 12/01/2002 07:00:00 PM Eastern

As the new season heads into Christmas season, the networks have been uncharacteristically slow to swing the cancellation ax. Thus far, each network besides NBC has canceled only one show.

ABC's Push, Nevada; CBS's Bram and Alice; Fox's Girls Club; WB's Birds of Prey; and UPN's Haunted
all got whacked. ABC's That Was Then
is officially on hiatus—cancellation's Emergency Room—with ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne saying there's a chance it could come back on the schedule in a new time period.

Analysts say changing times demand changing strategies, and patience seems to be the trend this year.

"I think it makes perfectly good sense to let these programs grow a little bit, particularly seeing the investment the networks are making in them," says Harry Keeshan, executive vice president, director of national broadcast, PHD USA. "That is, as long as they are not doing severe damage to the season average of that network and have the script potential to get better."

Potential damage to the network is why a show like Fox's Girls Club
was canceled two episodes out, while NBC's ratings-challenged In-Laws
has been on the air for two months.

Keeshan thinks the networks' patience stems from a tough economic climate, in which it is too costly to switch shows out and replace them with something else.

Growing a show is a strategy that has worked for The WB, which always has tended to be patient with its shows. This year, The WB is getting strong ratings from older shows, such as Charmed
on Sundays at 8 p.m., 7th Heaven
on Mondays at 8 p.m., Gilmore Girls
on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and Reba
on Fridays at 9 p.m. Analysts say the performance of shows like Gilmore Girls, in its third season, and Charmed, in its fifth season, in new time periods is surprising even The WB.

Boosting the network's performance even more, though, is that of newbie Everwood, which improves on its time period over the year-ago entrant, Angel, in adult and female demos. Critics point to Everwood
as The WB's bona fide freshman hit, and it was the show the other network entertainment presidents most coveted going into the fall season.

The corporate incentive

And like Everwood, produced by Warner Bros., more and more networks have a financial investment in their shows, making them more inclined to keep them on the air.

For example, Disney-owned Touchstone Television produced almost all of ABC's new fall slate, including 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Life With Bonnie, Less Than Perfect
and MDs. NBC Studios produces Hidden Hills, Boomtown, and American Dreams. Warner Bros. has produced almost all of The WB's schedule, including the majority of its new shows.

Still, many shows are staying on the schedule that, in days gone by, would have been canceled a month ago. ABC's MDs, for example, is the 79th-most-watched show on television, behind such struggling shows as CBS's Robbery Homicide Division
and CBS's Presidio Med, both of which also are teetering on the cancellation edge. MDs
and Presidio Med, two medical dramas set in San Francisco, battle it out on Wednesdays at 10 p.m., splitting whatever audience is not watching NBC's blockbuster Law & Order.

Friday has become another purgatory for ratings-challenged shows, but that's partly due to limited viewing of network television on that night. Two new CBS shows, Robbery Homicide Division
and Hack
both look lackluster there, but the stories are very different for each show. While Robbery Homicide Division
loses 9% of viewers and 3% of adults 25-54 compared with 48 Hours
in that slot last year, Hack
significantly improves its slot, jumping 44% in viewers and 24% in adults 25-54, CBS's key demographic.

Better than nothing

Networks often keep shows on the air because they improve upon the year-before time period. Such shows as NBC's American Dreams
and Boomtown
do not necessarily show stellar ratings but improve significantly on the time period.

American Dreams
averages a 4.2 rating/10 share on Sundays at 8 p.m., a 14% improvement over last year's Weakest Link. And Boomtown
averages a 3.9/10 in adults 18-49, a 5% improvement for NBC on Sundays at 10 p.m. over last year's UC: Undercover.

Even In-Laws, which NBC has not yet picked up for a full-season run, improves its time period by a little bit, increasing performance in adults 18-49 on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. by 3%. Conversely, Hidden Hills
on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. is underperforming last year's Scrubs
in that demo by 13%.

Still, what networks are really looking for are shows like CBS's CSI: Miami, which dominates the schedule no matter how you slice the ratings. The show is No. 8 among adults 25-54 season-to-date, and it improves upon its year-ago time period by 61% in households and 91% in adults 25-54.

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