Oldies and Goodies

Evergreen shows can be money trees

In nearly every local market, station managers struggle with counter-programming Oprah Winfrey's juggernaut. Competitors throw court shows or talk shows against her. But in Knoxville, Tenn., WVLT is enjoying success with a down-home approach: reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. It rarely beats Oprah but routinely pulls in a 4 household rating and sometimes even spikes to a 7 rating.

In more than a dozen Southern markets, including Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Macon, Ga., stations are running the 1960s hit and enjoying similar success. Other evergreens have the same magic.

Andy has almost a cult following in the South,” says WVLT General Manager Chris Baker.

Little House on the Prairie, I Love Lucy and Matlock are also strong performers at some stations nationwide.

In Raleigh, on UPN affiliate WRDC, Good Times averaged a 2.7 household rating at 11 p.m. in November, beating reruns of Friends and Seinfeld.

At the upcoming National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) convention, some station executives will be shopping for oldies. For syndicators, it's good business. There are no production costs, just straight profit.

Stations are just one outlet. Several cable channels, particularly TV Land and Nick at Nite, earn strong ratings from old TV shows. Warner Bros. is partnering with corporate cousin America Online to start an oldies broadband service, In2TV.

On the local level, loading up on evergreen product works for non-traditional affiliates, which have more programming hours to fill. LIN Television's WNDY Indianapolis, a UPN affiliate, packs its afternoons with classics and gets impressive numbers. A 12:30 p.m. ET run of I Love Lucy posted a 2.1 rating in November sweeps, better than Jerry Springer and Millionaire. Similarly, Matlock beats The Tyra Banks Show and Cops.

Old shows are typically straight cash deals. Stations usually keep the entire ad inventory. Stations pitch the programs as tame alternatives to raucous talk shows and steamy soaps. “These shows offer quality to the advertisers,” says Jeff White, general manager for WNDY and its sister CBS station WISH.

And many old shows have deep libraries. Bewitched amassed 254 episodes. The Andy Griffith Show ended its eight-year run in 1968, after 249 shows. “There are so many episodes, it never gets old,” says Rich O'Dell, general manager for WLTX Columbia, S.C., which has been running Griffith since the mid 1970s.

Some independent stations devote the bulk of their schedule to the genre. In Chicago, Weigel Broadcasting relaunched its low-power outlet WWME as “Me-TV” and stocked up The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Bewitched and The Partridge Family. In Las Vegas, a town not usually associated with family values, independent KEEN sprinkles old shows between religious broadcasts. In the afternoon, it airs Little House on the Prairie, Flipper, Hazel and Green Acres.

Going forward, as local TV stations launch new digital broadcast channels, viewers may have even more opportunity to watch old-time favorites. In Roanoke, Va., CBS affiliate WDBJ has created a general entertainment channel on one of its digital slots and offers classics like Little House and Andy Griffith.

Similarly, in Knoxville, Tenn., WVLT carries UPN programming on its digital tier. During daytime and fringe, it runs Happy Days and Quincy. It also has rights to Green Acres and Carol Burnett & Friends, but, for now, the station is resting both. But any one of these classic shows can pull in numbers, to an extent. Says Baker: “There is a welcoming audience for wholesome family shows.”