Cable Nets Eye Leno Time Slot

After hot summer, 10 p.m. could be new opportunity

Bolstered by a strong summer and sensing opportunity in a scheduling landscape turned on its head with the move of Jay Leno to primetime (and the subsequent subtraction of a number of drama series), many cable programmers are taking more shots in the fall than they have in previous years.

Among those are some even within Leno's own company.

“Obviously we hope [Leno] is a huge success for NBC,” says NBCU Cable Entertainment President Bonnie Hammer, who oversees USA Network and Syfy. “But from a competitive point of view, it doesn't hurt for drama to have another place on the schedule where there is one less competitor in that genre.”

USA is launching a series in the fall for the first time. The drama, White Collar, will air Friday nights at 10 p.m., following the last episodes of Monk, which is ending its eighth and final season Dec. 4.

But USA and other cable networks must overcome a history of modest ratings come fall, when the broadcast networks traditionally trot out their varsity teams.

“Generally the numbers [for cable] aren't as strong [in fall] as the summer, and I would suspect that will happen again this year,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP at Horizon Media.

But that's not stopping cablers from trying.

FX, which typically programs in that time slot, has Sons of Anarchy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Nip/Tuck on the slate. Alternative fare at 10 p.m. includes A&E summer holdover Hoarders (which A&E president and GM Bob Debitetto says is “great counterprogramming to fall broadcast fare”), as well as Destination Truth on Syfy, The Girls Next Door on E! and The Hills on MTV.

Other new and returning shows include Syfy's Stargate Universe, which will air Fridays at 9 p.m. and ABC Family's Lincoln Heights slated for Mondays at 8 p.m.

The premium cable networks HBO and Showtime are lining up fall originals on Sunday nights. Curb Your Enthusiasm will return to HBO after a two-year hiatus Sept. 20, followed by new comedy Bored To Death. Showtime is bringing back its two top Fall performers Dexter and Californication starting Sept. 27.

ABC Family president Paul Lee says that the sort of “marquee brand-defining scripted programming” that cable nets like USA, TNT, FX and his own network are bringing out year round is signaling a shift in strategy for the broadcasters as well.

“[Programming year round] really keeps up the momentum and puts more pressure on the broadcasters, who inevitably have to back off in the summer and put more weight behind the fall in order to compete,” Lee says.