Nets Working for the Weekend as Friday Prime Regains Favor

'Golden Boy,' 'Fashion Star' latest efforts on once-abandoned night

It wasn't so long ago that Friday, like Saturday,
was essentially abandoned by broadcast networks due
to dwindling viewership on the night, with the schedule
relegated to repeats and cheaper news programming.

But as the competition from cable and the DVR on
every night has grown fiercer, several seasons of more
aggressively programming Fridays has allowed for some
relative hits—ABC’s Shark Tank, CBS’ Blue Bloods and
NBC’s Grimm. Yet the night has also seen its share of failures,
such as this season’s quickly canceled CBS series
Made in Jersey and The Job.

“The threshold for success on any given night is a
little bit lower. Therefore, Friday night, which had been
given up for dead when there was a greater threshold
for success, is now back within sight,” says one network
executive who requested anonymity.

On March 8, three network series will debut or return
to Fridays—rookie CBS cop drama Golden Boy; the
second season of NBC retail competition series Fashion
; and the return of cult favorite Grimm to the schedule
after a four-month hiatus.

Though Made in Jersey and The Job both lasted only
two episodes, CBS is at least giving Golden Boy the benefit of two Tuesday previews on Feb. 26 and March 5
(the first of which drew a solid-enough 1.8 rating
among adults 18-49 and 10.5 million viewers) before
the show’s official Friday premiere. And despite The
’s early termination, the producers of Fashion Star
which relocated from Tuesdays—see the night as fertile
for a returning show.

“We’re excited about the time slot. We actually think
Friday has proven to be a strong night for reality,” says
Laura Caraccioli, executive VP of advertising at Electus,
the studio behind Fashion Star, pointing to shows such
as Shark Tank and Undercover Boss. And with Fashion
being highly integrated with retail, Caraccioli also
notes the Friday perch gets viewers right before their
weekend shopping.

Friday also offers a lower bar for success (Fashion
was originally scheduled for Sunday nights, where
it would have gone up against tough scripted competition
on cable). That also makes the night an ideal testing
ground for new types of programming.

“I think Friday has the ability for us to experiment a
little bit with and make us keep thinking about how to be better,” says Andy Kubitz, executive VP of program
planning and scheduling at ABC.

Such experimentation established Shark Tank on Friday.
A show that might not have survived on a more competitive
night, it now ranks as a top-10 series among viewers
making upward of $100,000 a year, an upscale audience
thought not to be watching TV on Friday nights.

Similarly Grimm, thought to be a long shot with its
fairy-tale procedural premise when it debuted in 2011,
put up a strong premiere against the World Series and
does solid business for NBC at a time when the network
is desperate for traction.

ABC has also taken steps to bring family comedy back
to Friday, akin to its T.G.I.F. days. While Last Man Standing
is down about 36% among adults 18-49 compared
to its Tuesday run last season, it’s doing well enough to
help launch a second entry, Malibu Country. Kubitz says
he would like to build on that block next fall if ABC’s development
allows. “I wouldn’t even be opposed to using
that night to grow other nights of the week for that type
of comedy programming as well,” he adds.

For other series however, Fridays can be a last option
after underperformance on other, more lucrative nights
on the schedule. NBC’s Brian Williams summed up what
Fridays can often be when the newsman welcomed viewers—with his signature dry wit—to “our latest resting
place” during Rock Center’s first Friday broadcast on Feb.
8, the show’s fifth time slot in 16 months.

Indeed, a move to Fridays often translates to mean
you’re a step closer to cancellation. Fox’s Kiefer Sutherland
drama, Touch, which averaged a 2.2 18-49 rating
on Thursdays last season after American Idol, isn’t cutting
it on Fridays this year at a 0.8.

The CW’s freshman drama Cult also got the downgrade
last week after averaging a paltry 0.2 rating with
its target adults 18-34 demo.

ABC’s struggling comedy Happy Endings is awaiting
a similar fate. Having launched on Wednesdays after
Modern Family, the show moved to Tuesdays and
even had a failed double-run on Sundays before being
pulled; it returns to Fridays on March 29.

But Friday doesn’t always have to mean the end.
Fox’s Fringe moved to Fridays midway through its third
season and survived on the night through season five.

“It’s just like any other night,” says the network executive.
“If you put on a good show that really serves your brand,
you’re going to find some audience.”

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