Cruel Summer For Broadcast Networks

Scripted series generate little interest from viewers 6/28/2010 12:10:00 AM Eastern

The Broadcast networks
are desperately trying to keep
viewers from defecting this
summer by airing new scripted series.
But so far, those offerings have been
greeted with a collective shrug. Only
one of the new entries, ABC’s Rookie
, cracked a 2.0 rating in the key
18-49 demographic.

That may not sound like a big number,
but Jeff Bader, executive VP at ABC
Entertainment, reminds that it’s all relative
and Rookie Blue now stands as the
top new show of the summer.

“When you look at absolute numbers,
they’re not big,” Bader says.
“When you look at what we were doing
last summer, our goal was just to
get more circulation to get people used
to the fact that we have original programming on.”

Networks have turned to summer scripted fare in past years.
But with television viewing cooling down as the weather gets
hotter, and reruns losing their economic upside in a DVR-wired
world, network executives find themselves with a conundrum:
how to keep the lights on without spending too much.

After attempting to make a big splash with the racy Swingtown
two summers ago, CBS has mostly gone back to relying on
its crime procedural reruns and comedies, with mixed results.
Kelly Kahl, the network’s scheduling chief, admits that reruns
have lost some of their “cache,” but top shows including the
NCIS franchise and Big Bang Theory are
putting up respectable numbers. CBS
has scripted series on Friday, where the
network is burning off Miami Medical and
has scheduled new episodes of Flashpoint,
a Canadian production that comes with a
rock-bottom price tag. The latter is winning
its time slot in key demos and total
viewers. The Bridge bows July 10.

“The economics still need to make sense
for us,” Kahl says. “That may be changing,
but right now you don’t see a lot of the
scripted setting the world on fire.”

Indeed, NBC’s Persons Unknown and 100
are averaging a 1.2 and 0.8.

For ABC, there was little choice but
to commission scripted this summer,
given the network’s dismal rerun record.
ABC bowed three scripted series last
week: The Gates, Scoundrels and Rookie
all received heavy promotion during
the network’s coverage of the NBA
Finals, which pulled in ABC’s biggest
audience ever for the games.

Broadcast’s modest ratings come as
many cable series, including HBO’s
True Blood and TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland,
are putting up record numbers. If
broadcast’s tough sell says more about
viewer habits, it is still a strategy to
which executives remain committed.

“I think all of us are a little disappointed
in how the summer shows are
performing,” admits Preston Beckman,
executive VP for strategic program planning
at Fox. The net bowed The Good Guys in front of American Idol
last spring to give it a bump and has slotted it on Mondays behind
originals of Lie to Me, a holdover from the fall. Good Guys was down
to a 1.2 rating in the demo with 4.2 million viewers last week.

“The conclusion we all came to is we have to start taking some
at-bats in the summer,” Beckman adds. “A little of it is a learning
curve in terms of what kinds of shows might work, and getting
the viewer to believe that these shows are not burn-off.”

E-mail comments to and follow her on Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie

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