For years, Friday
nights has proven to be one of the two toughest nights (along with Saturday) to
draw an audience for the broadcast networks. Media fragmentation is part of the
reason, but also many adults, believe it or not, have a life outside of TV, and
tend to be out living it on Fridays, away from the set.
As a result,
advertisers are pretty thrifty when it comes to network TV spending on
date-night number one. They spent a little under $1.2 billion on primetime
Friday shows last year, according to research firm Kantar Media, the second
lowest nightly tally of the week, beating only Saturday night's annual intake
of $835 million.
And the networks
aren't investing much in real estate that lacks appeal to marketers. Only two
new Friday programs were announced for the fall lineups during the upfront
presentations: CBS's The Gifted Man,
and NBC's Grimm. Both shows fall into
the paranormal genre, which has a fairly decent track record on Friday nights
(think Ghost Whisperer and Medium). The CBS entry follows the
trials of a gifted surgeon who is able to communicate with his dead wife, while
NBC's entry is a sort of modern retelling of Grimm's Fairy Tales.
"The problem on
Friday is that the networks have historically targeted an audience [adults
18-49] that really isn't watching at that hour or that night," says Brad
Adgate, SVP/director of research at Horizon Media.
The Friday night
audience tends to skew older, which is why CBS has had success on the night,
most recently with the hit police drama Blue
Bloods, which is returning for a second season at 10 p.m. According to
Adgate, that show's median age is 60, not all that surprising given that star
Tom Selleck is in his mid-60s.
That said, buyers
and sellers attending this year's upfront noted there is an underserved
audience on Friday nights-families with young children. It wasn't so long ago,
buyers recall, that ABC programmed to that audience with its "TGIF" lineup of
sitcoms (Full House, Family Matters, among others). And there
was some speculation and a little disappointment when ABC didn't revive the
formula for the 2011-12 season.
"Some people were hoping
that ABC would bring back TGIF," said one agency executive who attended the
network's presentation. The source noted that those hopes were likely based on
the background of Paul Lee, now head of ABC Entertainment, who previously
oversaw the ABC Family cable channel. "But let's face it, reality is cheaper to
produce," the source said.
And that's the
direction ABC has taken this year, leading off the night with the aging Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which is
moving from its Sunday time period. The returning Shark Tank follows at 9, followed by 20/20.
Extreme Makeover will go head to head with Fox's returning reality show Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay.
Up to now, Makeover has had a far
bigger audience: 8.3 million viewers in the 2010-11 season, per Nielsen, versus
3.7 million for Nightmares. And Makeover should easily beat the cooking
show, although buyers note that its audience will likely shrink given the
smaller overall tune-in Fridays versus Sundays, where the series had been
scheduled for the last eight seasons.
ABC isn't the only
network using Friday as a dumping ground for old shows next season. Friday at 8
will serve as a hospice for NBC's Chuck,
entering its fifth and final season. The Peacock network will follow with the
new Grimm at 9 and round out the
night as usual with Dateline.
Meanwhile, CBS has
dominated the Friday 9 to 11 block with CSI:
New York followed by Blue Bloods.
CSI: NY pulled an audience of 9.5
million viewers during the regular season, while Blue Bloods drew 10.7 million. While the shows skew older, their
large overall audiences have enabled them to win (more narrowly) among adults
18-49 as well. The weakest link of the night last fall for CBS was the
critically acclaimed Medium, which is
being replaced with The Gifted Man.
Bottom line, per
buyers: CBS makes the best effort among the broadcast networks to draw Friday
night audiences with quality scripted fare, and the network should once again
win the night next season.