Execs Agree: Fall Was a Mess

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NBC’s Jeff Zucker probably said it best when he told attendees at an industry breakfast in New York Tuesday that part of the problem with the new fall season is that "some of the programming just sucked." As to which programming he was referring to he said, "I think you can figure it out." He also said his dumbest move of the season was putting on the Thursday night clunker Coupling.

Zucker’s comments came at the International Radio and Television Society’s Annual Network Entertainment Chiefs Breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Zucker was joined by his colleagues from the other five broadcast networks, including ABC’s Susan Lyne, CBS’s Nancy Tellem, Fox’s Gail Berman, The WB’s Jordan Levin and UPN’s Dawn Ostroff.

They all agreed that Nielsen’s ratings sample was probably reporting inaccurate data for men 18-34 for the first several weeks of the season, although Nielsen strongly denies it, insisting that those viewers simply weren’t there because the programming does not appeal to them.

Berman said that while baseball was good for Fox it confused viewers early in the new season and that there is sort of a lag time between the big launch of up to 40 new shows over a four week period and when viewers figure out what actually appeals to them.

But as Lyne noted, lack of appeal is more the issue this season. "There’s usually at least one show that everybody wants to check out at the start of the season and that brings people to network television," she said. But this season, she said, that show didn’t materialize.

The WB’s Levin said the networks need to rethink their program launch strategies and think more in terms of a 52-week season. He cited the success Fox had with the launch of The O.C. this summer, although Berman noted that that launch may have added to viewer confusion because they’re conditioned for the big promotional push for early fall. So go figure.

Ostroff said that while this season’s across the board ratings declines among younger adult viewers for new and returning shows is perplexing, it reflects an increasingly complex TV landscape. "It can take years to build a hit," she said, a feat that becomes more challenging "with all the viewing choices out there."

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