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Slim Seasonal Pleasures

Reality scores on networks; viewers migrate to cable 6/27/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Warm weather months are a tough sell. Some shows have scored—NBC's Last Comic Standing, Fox's The Simple Life 2
and The WB's Summerland—most are melting down. Fox is giving its programming "revolution" its best shot but isn't attracting acolytes. Ratings haven't convinced its competitors that launching original scripted shows year-round is smart business.

This summer, per usual, there was a severe drop in broadcast-network viewing, with audiences migrating to ad-supported cable. The six networks dropped 7.1% from May to June (which included huge ratings from the Friends, Frasier
and American Idol
finales), according to Magna Global USA and Nielsen Media Research.

What scares broadcasters? Ad-supported cable jumped 2.3%.

Last year, the networks saw a similar shift May to June, with 7.9% of the broadcast audience dropping off and cable picking up by 1.7%. (The number of homes using TV generally drops nearly 3% once summer starts.)

That explains why Fox is luring viewers with a new season of shows, and NBC is airing every reality title it has in its arsenal.

While Fox is trying a noble experiment, only The Simple Life 2
can be called a success. Stars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie and their cross-country road trip have given Fox a winner, improving its time period by 50% in adults 18-49. Mark Burnett's unscripted drama The Casino, on the other hand, hasn't performed as well as expected, down 17% in the time period.

On the other hand, procedural crime drama The Jury
is least likely to succeed, down 40% in adults 18-49. It's off Keen Eddie's performance in the time period last year, and that show got canceled. Drama North Shore
is struggling, but Fox is patient.

The comedies are doing better, with Method & Red
scoring a 3.5 rating/10 share in adults 18-49, though off 10% from last summer's Paradise Hotel. Critically panned Quintuplets
improved the time period by 10% in the demo. Fox hopes at least two of the four new scripted shows will build enough to warrant bringing them back. Still, Fox is down 25% in all demos year-to-year, an unsettling statistic.

Over at NBC, Last Comic Standing
is the summer's best performer, although it's up 5% only in adults 18-49 versus last year. Still, it managed to improve season-to-season while taking on the high-rated NBA finals.

The rest of NBC's new shows are shaky. Who Wants To Marry My Dad?
is up 6% in adults 18-49, good news for the network. But For Love or Money 3, last summer's big hit, is off 33% in the time period in the key demo year-to-year. Next Action Star
is down 24% on Tuesdays at 8, the not-expected-to-return Come to Papa
is down 39%, and Crime and Punishment 3
is down 50%. Yet NBC remains summer's weekly ratings winner, except when it was up against the NBA Finals on ABC.

CBS is hanging tough with high-rated repeats of CSI
and CSI: Miami. It also did well with 60 Minutes' exclusive interview with former President Bill Clinton and AFI's 100 Years…100 Songs. CBS's original programming starts up in July, when Big Brother
and Amazing Race
return for their annual summer runs.

Summer has mixed for The WB. Summerland
came out stronger than expected, matching the performance of teen fave One Tree Hill, with which it shares a time period. Network execs expect to renew it for next year.

Meanwhile, The WB's concert series Pepsi Smash, essentially a ratings failure last summer, returned to even weaker ratings, off 22% in adults 18-34. Because Pepsi Smash
is an ad-sponsored show, it's profitable. But don't look for it next year. This August, The WB will launch Blue Collar Comedy, starring Jeff Foxworthy.

Neither ABC nor UPN is delivering much original programming this summer. ABC is focusing on its Pepsi-sponsored Summer of a Billion Laughs, replaying its comedies in the hopes of gaining traction.

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