October 21, 2013

NIELSENWAR Week 4: Sweeps Decision Time


As a rule, broadcast network schedules are released to the media about two weeks in advance, so as the fall season moves toward the beginning of November sweeps on Halloween night (ooooh, scary!), any  network that wants its changes to have effect during sweeps–still very important to stations, especially the 10PM hour that leads into local news–and get an effective amount of promotion in advance, needs to start making decisions.  That was one of the reasons last Friday was so busy, with NBC, CBS and FOX announcing various back orders and reshufflings.  Where does it all leave us?

NBC:  Everyone knows that NBC has a Wednesday problem and a Thursday problem.  The network attempted to address those, in part, by canceling Ironside and Welcome To The Family last week, and announcing an assortment of stop-gap programming to air on both nights until CHICAGO PD and COMMUNITY arrive in January (theoretically to the rescue).  What’s becoming increasingly clear, though, is that NBC also has a Tuesday problem.  It’s been obscured, of course, by the continuing presence of THE VOICE on Tuesdays.  But last week, The Voice dropped down (as planned) to 1 hour for the night, and suddenly NBC was in 3rd place at 8PM with THE BIGGEST LOSER (which probably has an older and less desirable audience than FOX’s comedies, even though it outdraws them in the full 18-49 demo, as indicated in the higher ad rates being charged for those shows).  More worrisome is that CHICAGO FIRE was just barely ahead of PERSON OF INTEREST at 10PM, 2.2 vs 2.1, and despite Fire‘s big 4.0 lead-in, not all that far ahead of the 1.8 PARENTHOOD was doing in the slot last season.  It’s not a great sign for a show that’s supposed to be the linchpin of a franchise.  Last week, even with the Voice hour, NBC was only 0.2 ahead of CBS for the night.  Also, since NBC knows full well how that Community/PARKS & RECREATION hour is likely to rate this spring (hint:  not well), it’s not to early to wonder what NBC plans to do with its comedies next season.  Conventional wisdom says it’s time to blow up Thursday, but Sunday is football night, Monday 8-10PM isn’t likely to be touched, NBC tried and failed with post-Voice sitcoms last season on Tuesday, and Wednesday requires doing battle with Modern Family, still hitting 4s.  Does anyone really believe a Meg Ryan or Susan Sarandon comedy is going to turn Thursdays around next fall?  This is why network presidents tend not to last very long.

CBS:  Mondays are now a real issue, with MIKE & MOLLY unlikely to change things substantially (or turn MOM into a hit) and the clock ticking on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER.  Tuesdays and Wednesdays are fine (for now), but despite throwing around back orders last week like Oprah handing out cars to her studio audience, Thursdays are looking like THE BIG BANG THEORY and a collection of what’s-their-names.  No one can be under any illusions that THE MILLERS would be a hit without that gigantic 5 lead-in, and THE CRAZY ONES isn’t much better than OK.  After that it gets grim:  2 1/2 MEN is becoming the most expensive 2 rating on television, and ELEMENTARY is getting killed by Scandal–it was barely in front of Parenthood last week (although like most CBS shows it was much stronger with older viewers), and seems due to move to Friday or Sunday.  Thinking of which, THE MENTALIST had a 1.2 last night.  CBS has been able to sit on its laurels for a long time, but time is catching up with it.  2 years from now, there’s a very real chance that the network won’t be airing a single show besides Big Bang that consistently tops a 2.5 rating between 8-10PM, or a 2 after that.

ABC:  Nothing’s gone ABC’s way this fall.  AGENTS OF SHIELD can still be called a success, but viewers sampled it and changed the channel, leaving a show that hasn’t justified the massive hype (and media spend) that led up to its premiere.  And that’s the good news.  Some of the other new shows will get back orders because something has to, but none of them–THE GOLDBERGS, TROPHY WIFE, BACK IN THE GAME, SUPER FUN NIGHT, ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND, BETRAYAL–are likely to return next season, and REVENGE and NASHVILLE may survive only because there are too many other holes for the network to fill.  Among the Alphabet’s questions:  how long can it afford to use SCANDAL, its solitary buzz magnet, only to bolster the aging GREY’S ANATOMY?

FOX:  SLEEPY HOLLOW is a genuine hit, and that’s good.  But nothing is popping on Tuesday, and a post-Super Bowl airing of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE isn’t likely to change that.  We now know that 2014/15 will be the last season for GLEE (a smart decision for both show and network), but FOX’s bigger Wed/Thurs problem is THE X FACTOR, which is barely holding its own with responsibility for 3 hours of the network schedule.  Combine that with its aging, dwindling animated hits, and 2015/16 is looking like a turning point season for FOX, one way or another.

CW:  Weirdly enough, CW can make a reasonable claim to having the most successful fall of any network.  THE ORIGINALS and THE TOMORROW PEOPLE appear to be substantial successes, and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is still holding strong.   Pending this week’s result, REIGN may turn out to be an ambitious failure (“ambitious” by CW standards), but the other networks would be thrilled to be 2 for 3 on their new series, and a failure that swings for the fences is more justifiable than a timid one like Sean Saves the World.  Mondays, of course, are dismal:   HART OF DIXIE may survive the season if it doesn’t slip any more, but BEAUTY & THE BEAST should never have been renewed, and is dead unless, like NIKITA, it has such overseas value that it’s worth keeping around.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."