JUNE 2011 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
* Bold denotes programming change
USA is extraordinarily consistent month-to-month and week-to-week.
Off network dramas comprise the white noise that holds the network together with strips and three-hour primetime blocks. NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU typically fill that role. HOUSE has had less success at the job, and goes on and off the primetime schedule.
Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. Premiere nights lean to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the remainder of the schedule left to off net acquisitions and movies. Originals returned to Sunday nights this June, giving USA five nights of original programming. And Friday nights are being looked at, according to Chris McCumber. The season for original programming has expanded as well. Once relegated to the non-competitive summer months, USA has continued to successfully expand its roster of originals, with new series and new episodes running nearly all year, with just a couple of bridge months left to fill. "We want to be a network that's on all four seasons, and basically has a presence throughout the week," stated Jeff Wachtel.
JUNE 2011 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / June 2011 vs. June 2010 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
JUNE 2011: USA grew its audience by almost 10% vs. last month's low performance, but is off by over 10% vs. last year's levels. Adult 25-54 ratings improved on only one night vs. last year. However, the network, like the summer, is just heating up. Compared to last month, ratings were up nearly every night. USA is on a winning streak with nine successful program launches in a row. This summer USA serves up two more new original series and six established originals across four nights each week. Add in Monday night's wrestling and only Friday and Saturday nights are off the programming plate (although Fridays are not off the table, per Chris McCumber in an interview with TVLine.)
Taking a closer look, let's start with Monday nights, where WWE anchors the week. Ratings are relatively steady for the franchise, and produce the best program average ratings for households, men and adults, even when going up against USA's high-rated original programming. However, we see a 15% drop in men 18-49 vs. last month and a 6% drop vs. last year. WWE TOUGH ENOUGH, USA's primetime foray into reality programming came to a close this month near the bottom of the program rankers, even with a 9% men 18-49 gain vs. last month. NCIS consistently drew bigger lead-in audiences for wrestling. No formal word on a return for TOUGH ENOUGH.
Tuesday is usually home to LAW & ORDER: SVU, a key component of USA's primetime support system. This month WHITE COLLAR and COVERT AFFAIRS took over at 9 and 10, and boosted Tuesday night's ratings up by about 30% for men and 10% for women vs. both last year and last month. Neither program was on the air last June, instead, USA-produced originals of LAW & ORDER: CI were running on Tuesday nights, with lower audiences. Bottom line, Tuesday was the only night to show ratings increases across the board.
In June Wednesdays were still home to NCIS, the other element in USA's primetime support system. (ROYAL PAINS and new program NECESSARY ROUGHNESS premiered on June 29, and according to USA, both shows cracked 2 million in P25-54 and 1.8 million in P18-49. ROYAL PAINS was up double digits over Winter and NECESSARY ROUGHNESS held virtually ALL of ROYAL PAINS levels on 25-54 (98%), 18-49 (96%) and also 93% (total viewers).) NCIS is showing its age, as adult ratings are off by more than 10% vs. last year. We saw a similar story last month. With 35+ runs each month, NCIS is an important component in USA's line-up. The declining audiences indicate a need for a reinforced support system.
Thursdays were also dominated by NCIS, until BURN NOTICE premiered on the 23rd. The premiere was the top-rated telecast of the month behind WWE, showing signs that BURN NOTICE and Sam Axe are still alive and well as they enter their fifth season. The lead-out program, the premiere of SUITS, USA's new legal drama, was next in the top telecast rankings, holding onto 96% of BURN NOTICE's household audience, 99% of women and 85% of men, resulting in a female skew. Compared to last year's fourth season premiere, BURN NOTICE lost 13% of its adult 18-49 audience and 24% of its live adult 25-54 audience. So while we see BURN NOTICE drawing big audiences and able to launch new programs, we also see signs of maturity as the audience starts to level out.
Fridays and Saturdays were also home to wall-to-wall NCIS, with just two movies (Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale) interrupting the NCIS run. Sundays drew a slight increase in women 25-54 vs. last year, as IN PLAIN SIGHT held audience and LAW & ORDER: CI improved in its Sunday night slot.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
USA continues to keep moving to protect its place at the top of the cable heap. With an eye on aging audiences and formulaic programming, the network that started the scripted original movement on cable is moving into comedy and reality, trying to stay ahead of the cable pack.
In their recent round of interviews promoting the summer line-up, network co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber gave some valuable insights. They are very conscious of where the programs are on the life-cycle. With mature programs such as PSYCH and BURN NOTICE, there is a need to continue to develop solid programming. While they talk about "pushing the boundaries of the brand" and avoiding cookie-cutter, formula-based dramas, the latest round of programs doesn't stray too far from the mold of complex characters aspiring to make-good. The network is very conscious of its brand and the power it holds. Chris McCumber told TVLine "When we look at the response our audience has to new shows, they already know what the brand is and they can tell us if a show fits into that brand. Even more importantly, when they hear about new show on USA, we hear them say, "ËœFrankly, I don't now much about this, but I know the brand, so I'm more likely to check it out.' That's the real opportunity for you."
Where does opportunity lie? Says Chris McCumber in TVLine, "We've been incredibly successful with scripted hours. Now it's about trying to expand the variety of programming we're doing. We're looking at reality, half hours, maybe going back to event miniseries, things USA has done well in the past." Jeff Wachtel adds that writing and casting are what the network is looking for in developing new series.