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Joe Is Cold, Skin Is Weak

Fox debuts stumble, quickly put network in sweeps hole 10/26/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Fox's hopes of challenging with NBC in the coveted adult 18-49 demographic during November sweeps were crushed with last week's dismal premieres of The Next Joe Millionaire
and Skin.

While the shows aren't unsalvageable, the low Nielsens for both highly promoted programs was a disappointment, especially as Fox's playoff baseball ratings were far better than expected.

"We are having an extremely great baseball season, but I make no bones about how hard it is to launch our season in the November book and in the fourth quarter," says Gail Berman, president of Fox Entertainment. "We've been consistent abut the difficulties that we face in doing that. But we'll have all our guns blazing come January."

NBC has given Fox an opening. So far, the Peacock net is down 14% year to year in adults 18-49, but it still has a stable of strong 18-49 performers and is skilled at using them to advantage during sweeps periods.

Skin
opened Oct. 20 at 9 p.m. ET with a 2.7 rating/6 share in adults 18-49 and 6.3 million viewers, placing fourth in the young-adult demos. Its ratings were 4% below Girls Club's 18-34 performance last season, and that David E. Kelley-penned show was last year's first fatality, canceled after two episodes. But Fox executives say they've seen upcoming episodes of Skin
and believe the show has much more upside.

Fox has shown its skill at building serial dramas with The O.C., which premiered to low numbers this summer and then grew into a hit. The network plans to make every effort to give Skin, a sort of 21st century version of Romeo and Juliet
(if Juliet's father were a pornographer) a chance to succeed, intending to double- and triple-run it during the next few weeks. Last week, Fox replayed the premiere on Friday at 9 p.m. It will replay the show on Thursdays at 9 p.m., following Tru Calling, once its regular schedule gets going.

Steve Sternberg, director of audience analysis for Magna Global, wonders whether the building strategy will really help. "Fox can move Skin
to another night, but what's going to cause it to build? The only place it can take viewers from is cable. It's easier to get viewers from the other networks than to draw them back from cable."

The bigger disappointment for Fox is Joe Millionaire
at 8 p.m., which launched with a very average 3.2/9 in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen. That's less than one-third the 10.1/22 with which the first Joe Millionaire
premiered last January.

While The Next Joe Millionaire
could likely pick up audience as the show progresses toward its two-hour season finale on Monday, Nov. 24 and could draw people in with a few twists along the way, it needed to perform well off the bat for Fox to be a player in the sweeps race.

Because Joe Millionaire
is scheduled for two hours each week during sweeps—Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET—its ratings will have a bigger impact on Fox's 15-hour schedule. Moreover, Fox now cannot count on Joe Millionaire
to give Skin
or 24
a big lead-in. Part of American Idol's value is the lift it gives surrounding shows, and the network was hoping Joe Millionaire
would do that.

"That was the roll of the dice, the risk they took when they made the decision last spring to bring back Joe Millionaire," says Bill Carroll, vice president, programming, Katz Television Group Programming. "The good fortune of the playoffs changed everybody's psychological outlook going in, but maybe the circumstances were the same all along, remembering that the audiences for Joe Millionaire
and the baseball playoffs are not exactly the same."

Berman agrees but says she's happy to have baseball's good numbers underpinning Fox's season. "Whether or not baseball is a good promotional platform for a show like Skin
remains to be seen. The bottom line is that there are some shows better-served by promotion in baseball than others. It's a great platform for 24. And either way, baseball's numbers have far exceeded anyone's expectations."

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