This November Bears Repeating

Sweeps period turns into a game of filling gaps

Call this the repeat sweeps. With cancellations taking their toll, the Big Four networks are relying on repeats—some much more than others—to fill holes where failures and miscues (or The Reagans) used to be.

NBC has canceled Coupling and pulled Lyon's Den for the sweeps period, leaving Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims to do some heavy lifting. With Law & Order and its spinoffs in place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday nights and repeats planned for two hours on Saturday nights through sweeps, plus a double run of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on Sundays, NBC is programming seven hours per week of Law & Order during sweeps, or about one-third of its prime time schedule.

By propping up its schedule with high-rated repeats of Law & Order, NBC is winning time periods in the short term but not necessarily helping itself in the long term by building shows.

"During sweeps, NBC will air defensive programming," said Susan Lyne, ABC's entertainment president, during a Webcast conference call with investment bank Goldman Sachs last week. "That gives you a quick win, but it doesn't build your schedule."

NBC also is making liberal use of Monday gross-out show Fear Factor, giving it some play on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

On Thursdays, with Coupling officially canceled, NBC will double-run Friends or supersize it and the other Thursday-night shows to fill the slot. Once sweeps ends, NBC will return Good Morning, Miami to Thursdays at 9:30 from Tuesdays. The Tracy Morgan Show will air at 8 on Tuesdays, Whoopi
moves to 8:30, Frasier
stays put at 9, and Happy Family
moves to 9:30.

"You need a Thomas Guide and GPS system to figure out what is on NBC's schedule," said one TV executive.

Fox has several holes to fill, now that Skin
and Luis are gone and Bernie Mac isn't premiering until Nov. 30. That has turned Fox's schedule into a bevy of repeats, with The O.C. on Thursdays at 9 p.m., after first airing on Wednesdays at 9; double runs of Wanda at Large at 8 and 8:30 on Fridays; double runs of The Simpsons on Sundays at 8 and 8:30; and repeats of That '70s Show and The Simpsons to fill Joe Millionaire's planned slot on Tuesdays at 8 and 8:30.

CBS doesn't use repeats as liberally as NBC and Fox do but is running four hours of repeats of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami and Without a Trace on Nov. 16 and 18 to fill the holes left by the pulled Reagan miniseries.

ABC, having renewed all its new shows except Karen Sisco, doesn't have too many holes to fill. Late last week, however, the network canceled L.A. Dragnet, which was underperforming its Saturday 10 p.m. time period by 52% in adults 18-49 compared with theatricals in the slot last year.

ABC's big victory last week was the one-hour episode of 8 Simple Rules
on Tuesday, in which the Hennessy family mourns the death of its patriarch, played by the late John Ritter. It had 20.5 million viewers and an 8.1 rating/21 share among adults 18-49, crushing the competition. (ABC repeated it, too.)

The WB and UPN are mostly staying pat with their schedules, although the former said last week that it will cancel Tarzan after the sweeps. It elected to stick with Tuesday drama One Tree Hill. UPN added Jake 2.0 to its list of keepers, which also includes All of Us and Eve. The Mullets has departed UPN's schedule.

NBC, while still down 12% in adults 18-49 this season compared with last, is down less severely in a week-to-week sweeps comparison, with an 8% drop in the key adult demo.

CBS is down only 1% in total viewers season-to-date but up 11% in the first week of November sweeps vs. last year's first week. Sweeps-to-date, the network is up 4% in its key adult 25-54 demographic and down 5% in adults 18-49, beating ABC by a comfortable margin.

Season-to-date, ABC is down 5% in adults 18-49 and flat in viewers; in the first week of sweeps, it is down 15% in adults 18-49 and down 8% in viewers. (Those numbers include last Tuesday's highly rated 8 Simple Rules.)

Fox still is riding on its baseball ratings, for a season-to-date improvement of 15% in adults 18-49 and a 16% bump in total viewers. But in the first week of sweeps—with no baseball and a new schedule to launch—Fox is down 18% in 18-49s and 15% in viewers.

Both The WB and UPN started out the new season struggling. UPN is down 21% season-to-date in adults 18-34 and 15% in viewers; The WB is off 21% in adults 18-34 and 11% in viewers. Both the young-skewing networks have taken hits because of the decline of TV watching among the younger demos, particularly men 18-24.

Comparing only the first week of this sweeps to last year's, The WB is down 28% in adults 18-34 and 15% in viewers, while UPN is down 6% in adults 18-34 and 11% in viewers.