Program Chiefs Fret Over Failures


The Case of the Missing 18-34 Male Demo was just one story much on the minds of the six network programming executives at the International Radio and Television & Radio Society's Annual Network Entertainment Chiefs Breakfast at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York last week.

They still suspect it's Nielsen's fault, but network television seems to be in a real funk. NBC President of Entertainment Jeff Zucker probably said it best when he told attendees that part of the problem with the new fall season is that "some of the programming just sucked."

Added ABC's Susan Lyne, "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." This season, though, no one's talking about what they see on network TV.

Zucker thought he had that show when he premiered Coupling, which he confessed was the dumbest move of the season. It was canceled Oct. 31.

Zucker and Lyne were joined at the breakfast by Fox's Gail Berman, CBS's Nancy Tellem, The WB's Jordan Levin and UPN's Dawn Ostroff.

Berman said that, while baseball helped Fox, it confused viewers early in the new season. There is, she said, a sort of 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. Last week, Fox canceled its highly promoted Skin.

Levin said the networks need to think more in terms of a 52-week season. He cited the success Fox had with the launch of The O.C. this summer. Berman said, though, that launch may have added to the eventual confusion because viewers are conditioned for the big promotional push in early fall.

Last week, another major ad agency—Carat—issued a report analyzing this season's sharp ratings fall-off among younger adult men and agreed with Nielsen that the declines are real and not due to miscalculations by the ratings service.

Networks don't program to that demo in prime time, Carat concluded. "Instead of condemning Nielsen," wrote Carat Programming Vice President Shari Anne Brill, "network programmers ought to heed its message and offer compelling programming that appeals to the very viewers they have neglected." n