recurring theme for all the broadcast networks this year was the decline of
returning series, according to Baseline Intelligence's recently released 2011 Upfront
Edition of its Primetime TV Insight report. As the networks gear up for
next month's upfronts, they face a world where the television audience
is as fragmented as ever, say the report's authors, Steve Sternberg and
Shari Anne Brill, and with the rise of original programming on cable,
broadcast must aim to keep its collective head above water. Sternberg
has led the audience analysis divisions of media agencies MAGNA, TN
Media, Bozell, and McCann-Erickson, and Brill is the founder of Shari Anne Brill Media and former svp, director of strategic audience analysis at Carat.
CBS' stability and rigid programming strategy are the main reasons it has consistently been one of the top networks, according to the report. It has successfully been able to produce multiple series within the same franchise (CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds have all produced spinoffs). But even though it's the strongest of the broadcast nets, CBS is not immune to decline, say Sternberg and Brill. Its three CSI series are starting to erode viewers, and CSI: New York's return in the fall is still up in the air. On the comedy front, CBS' bold move of shifting The Big Bang Theory to Thursday expanded its comedy programming past Monday night, points out the report, but also cost the sitcom a full point in the key 18-49 demo. And the uncertain fate of the net's top-rated sitcom, Two and a Half Men, could force it to scramble to fill the void. At least it will have some familiar stock to choose from -- few of CBS' upcoming pilots deviate from the network's core programming strategy, Baseline says.
According to the report, six of the top 10 broadcast series for women 18-49 are on ABC. However, the network's strongest female shows are on the decline, the report says, and the network has found it tough to find replacements or broaden its viewership (FlashForward was canceled last season and newcomers No Ordinary Family and Detroit 1-8-7 are likely goners as well). The recently debuted Body of Proof, as well as the upcoming Charlie's Angels reboot could signal a renewed focus on female viewers. And they'll need the eyeballs: Except for Modern Family and The Middle, most of ABC's returning scripted series declined from last year, say Brill and Sternberg.
NBC's struggles are well documented. Along with a yearly change in programming strategy, the network is also undergoing a change in regime thanks to its merger with Comcast. NBC's heavily touted new series last fall fell short of expectations, the report notes, and once again the network's fall lineup has numerous holes to fill. The network's most watched show is Sunday Night Football, which only runs September through January; Harry's Law is its only non-sports show to finish in the top thirty in total viewers, says the report. Returning shows didn't fare much better, as Parks & Recreation was the only one to not suffer a decline, according to Baseline. Brill and Sternberg say NBC is putting its hopes in singing competition The Voice as well its fall Wonder Woman reboot to turn fortunes around.
Just as ABC owns female viewership, Fox seems to have the upper hand with young males (though Glee helped it broaden to females), the report notes. The revamped American Idol still brings in large audiences for the network in its 10th season, and Fox hopes the Simon Cowell-led X Factor will help scoop up additional viewers. The net's other returning shows suffered declines as well, as average ratings were down across the board, say Brill and Sternberg. Fox is putting a lot of stock in its uber-ambitious Steven Spielberg-produced Terra Nova, which had to push back its original premiere date from May until the fall, a delay said to be caused by the special effects, which Fox claims are some of the most groundbreaking in television history.
The CW, which is the youngest-skewing of all the broadcast networks (its median age is just 35), featured original programming on all five nights for the first time this season. Still, its ratings resemble those of cable, as the network seems to only be focused on targeting young women, says the report. Its only show that draws predominantly male viewers, Smallville, is ending this season. According to the report, however, The CW leads the charge in using the social media realm as a way to connect with its audience online. This fall, the network will undergo a management change as former ABC exec Mark Pedowitz is likely to take over as entertainment president from Dawn Ostroff, the report notes.