Will Reality Spring Back?

Apprentice, Amazing Race off to sluggish starts

Will Reality Spring Back? Apprentice, Amazing Race off to sluggish starts By Ben Grossman

While American Idol’s audition stage has come and gone, March kicks off a new array of tryouts for the broadcaspt networks. They’ll trot out the last of their midseason replacements, hoping for a spring hit like ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy from a year before.

But with the Olympics over and spring schedules falling into place this week and next, the networks will also be keeping watchful eyes on their returning reality shows.

After the disappointing Olympics left NBC in third place for the February sweeps, the network hopes another competition, Deal or No Deal, grabs the gold.

The early returns were good, with the game show winning its regular Monday 8 p.m. time slot in its first outing (Deal ended with a 4.5/12 average in 18-49). While NBC stripped the show the rest of the week to less-impressive returns, it will now scale back to two times a week, with an episode also on Fridays at 8 for the next month.

Mitch Metcalf, NBC executive VP of program planning and scheduling, says the network wants to use Deal to launch its new Friday-night lineup, which features the relocated Las Vegas at 9 and debuting Dick Wolf drama Conviction at 10. But Metcalf knows that using the game show multiple times in a week risks going down the path of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, which flickered out quickly when ABC ran it too often.

“It’s a balancing act,” Metcalf says. “While it’s hot, there is always the temptation, but you want to do what’s right for the show and not burn it out too quickly.”

Metcalf adds that NBC probably won’t use Deal over the summer but will assess the situation in a few weeks.

A more troubling note for NBC was the debut of the latest installment of The Apprentice, which was the lowest season premiere to date with a 3.9 rating/9 share in 18-49 in its new Monday 9 p.m. slot.

Metcalf blames the sluggish debut on stiff competition from ABC’s season finale of resurgent The Bachelor and notes that Donald Trump’s normal reality competition will be a less threatening Supernanny.

He says NBC won’t use one episode to judge whether the Apprentice franchise is getting tired. “There is always a concern with any reality franchise. They seem to age at different rates than scripted shows, and it’s something you always look at,” he says. “Let’s see how we finish up.”

Losing the Race?

CBS is also keeping an eye on a returning reality franchise after The Amazing Race debuted lower than each of its previous two season premieres. But the first episode ran into the Idol buzz-saw until its final half-hour, when its numbers perked up to finish with a 4.1/10 average in 18-49.

CBS is hoping Race rebounds from last season, which went with a family format that underwhelmed fans. Kelly Kahl, CBS executive VP of scheduling and program planning, says a fallback is flipping Race with The Unit, which is Race’s lead-in Tuesdays at 9.

He adds that the network is “thrilled” with its other reality competition, Survivor, which is off to another strong start. Kahl thinks both venerable franchises still have a strong future: “There is plenty of kick left in both of them.”

ABC’s reality competition slate still looks strong with The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars, and it hopes to add a player this month in American Inventor, from Simon Cowell.

In addition to Idol, Fox has So You Think You Can Dance and Hell’s Kitchen returning. But it has yet to decide whether or not to give Skating With Celebrities a spin for season two.