Fall Schedule Strategies

Syndicators use fine calculations to decide programs’ premiere dates

If Yogi Berra had been asked to put together a fall schedule for a
syndicator, he might have uttered, “It gets late early out

That’s why, early each summer, syndication executives are asked
for their input in selecting fall premiere dates for new and returning shows.
While it might seem simple, it isn’t. A miscalculation can result in
viewers missing their programs amid a flurry of fall launches—and it can
be tough to get them back.

Since there is often little coordination between conjoined
network/syndication operations over fall schedules, syndicators with new
off-net shows will follow the lead of their network counterparts. That enables
them to take advantage of the sister network’s promotions for the prime
time version of the series.

Other premiere-date considerations include holiday, political and sports
schedules; filling schedule gaps on key station groups; and seamless
transitions for companion and replacement shows.

The premiere-date issue is so sensitive that several industry execs
refused to speak on the record. Some cited the benefit of premiering early so
as to stand out from the pack, while others said that debuting after the
majority helps the promotional message stick in viewers’ minds.

For the 2005-06 season, a majority of strips, including three new to
first-run—NBC Universal’s Martha, Telepictures’ Tyra
and Twentieth TV’s Judge
—will make their fall debuts on Sept. 12, a week after
Labor Day.

But fewer viewers may sample them or see their promos because of Labor
Day-week vacations. So some shows, like Warner Bros.’ off-net
Sex and the City and Debmar/Mercury’s
South Park, are waiting until Sept. 19.

Still others, like Tribune Entertainment’s Soul
—returning the week of Oct. 3—delay until higher
fourth-quarter ad rates kick in.

Starving for new shows

Then there are the early birds. NBCU’s Maury
and a few others debut on Labor Day, benefiting from the holiday-ratings boost
provided by younger viewers out of school. A few strong shows, namely King
World’s Oprah Winfrey and Buena Vista’s
Live With Regis and Kelly, dare to start the week before
Labor Day, when fewer—but younger—viewers are watching and ad
rates are lower.

Some industry strategists believe that, with the right promotion,
that’s a great time to stand out, because repeats dominate the dial and
viewers are starved for new shows.