ABC Early Leader in Demo; Fox, UPN Also Ahead of Last Season's Fall Pace
ABC, Fox and UPN have gotten off to a fast start this fall. (TV Week)
With strong premiere performances from its sophomore hits and the debuting sci-fi drama "Invasion," ABC-whose key demographic ratings perked up 16 percent over the course of last season-has emerged as the No. 1 network in the adults 18 to 49 demographic for the first days of the 2005-06 season, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Powered by "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy," the network is enjoying double-digit increases in the demo over the same period a year ago. But eclipsing ABC in year-to-year growth are Fox and UPN, which have each benefited from strong opening ratings for new and returning shows.
In addition, for the first season in several years of a sitcom drought, two of the most promising broadcast network debuts are half-hour comedies-NBC's "My Name Is Earl" and UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris."
"After years and years of sitcoms not really resonating, perhaps now the comedy pendulum is swinging the other way," said Brad Adgate, senior VP of research for Horizon Media.
Last Tuesday at 9 p.m. (ET) NBC's "Earl" scored a 5.1 in the demo for its second airing, a decline of 23 percent from its debut number but still high enough to beat all of its network competition during the half-hour. Combined with the night's big demo winner, "Law & Order: SVU," at 10 p.m., "Earl" helped NBC win Tuesday in adults 18 to 49. An NBC spokesman declined to comment on the network's new-season ratings. Last Thursday at 8 p.m., UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris" declined 28 percent from its record-setting series premiere the previous week, tying the first half-hour of ABC's "Alias" for last place in the time period. Despite the week-to-week drop, "Chris" has improved the time period for UPN from last season by 85 percent in adults 18 to 49 and 68 percent in total viewers.
Like last season, 2005-06 looks like it will be another neck-and-neck competition between as many as four networks for the top spot in adults 18 to 49, Shari Anne Brill, VP and director of programming for Aegis Group's Carat, said. ABC is likely to do better than last year's third-place demo finish, she added. "I do expect that ABC has a much stronger chance to make second. They are looking very good now," Ms. Brill said.
ABC also looks like a potential winner to Mr. Adgate, who jokingly noted ABC's ratings success could finally lead to more substantial profits for the network.
"Certainly, there has been no sophomore jinx for 'Housewives' and 'Lost,'" he said. "Another hit or two and maybe next year they will ask for the big increases in the upfront."
On the second Wednesday of the season, an original episode of the mysterious drama "Lost" at 9 p.m. was the top-rated show for the night in the demo, scoring a 9.7, down 5 percent from its season premiere the previous week. "Lost" lead-out "Invasion" scored a 5.1, a 25 percent decline from its premiere, but was still the victor in the 10 p.m. time period. "Invasion" beat out the second episode of the season for NBC's historically dominant "Law & Order" (4.8) and the season premiere of CBS's "CSI: NY" (4.5).
But ABC's biggest success has come on Sundays, where "Housewives" debuted Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. with a 12.3 in the demo, easily winning the night and growing 38 percent from its series premiere last fall. At 10 p.m. "Anatomy" hit an 8.3 in adults 18 to 49, increasing 15 percent over its midseason premiere and growing 73 percent over the premiere of "Boston Legal" in the time period a year ago.
Last Tuesday ABC's highly promoted 9 p.m. debut of its presidential drama "Commander in Chief" was the most-watched show of the night with 16.4 million viewers but did little to increase the network's competitive time period performance in adults 18 to 49. "Commander" scored a 4.3 in the demo, improving by 5 percent the year-ago premiere average for "According to Jim" and "Rodney." That was only good enough for ABC to tie the first half of CBS's special two-hour "Amazing Race: Family Edition" and NBC's "Earl" and "The Office" comedy block. Late last week NBC gave "The Office" a full season pickup.
Fox, usually a fall ratings laggard until the beginning of postseason baseball in October, has enjoyed success, thanks to the continued strength of its new Monday 9 p.m. drama "Prison Break," which got an early debut Aug. 29. Last Monday "Prison Break's" rating in adults 18 to 49 grew 5 percent from its performance the previous week to a 4.0. Two days later Fox announced it was giving the show, along with the Sunday animated comedy "American Dad," a full season pickup.
"We're continuing to be happy with where we are, because we had a plan of getting our shows on early," Mr. Beckman said. "We're getting a much better sense of where we are after baseball."
The other bright spot for Fox was its new Tuesday lineup, which features the debuting procedural "Bones" at 8 p.m. and the returning sophomore medical series "House" at 9 p.m. Last Tuesday "House" won its time period in the demo with a 5.2 and tied NBC's "SVU" as the top-rated show for the night in adults 18 to 49.
The fact that Fox is performing early in the fall with series in their regular time slots is a good sign for the network, Mr. Beckman said.
"We're doing it with our schedule," he said, "not with stunts or anything."One of the more closely watched rescheduled time periods of the new season is CBS's Monday night comedy linchpin "Two and a Half Men" at 9 p.m., which scored a 4.8 last week, down 6 percent from its season premiere the previous week. With perennial 9 p.m. time period holder "Everybody Loves Raymond" no longer on the schedule, "Men," the former 9:30 p.m. show, has moved into the plum comedy spot for the night and become the network's most important sitcom. For the first two weeks, "Men"" was down 17 percent from "Raymond's" performance in the time period a year ago (5.0 versus 6.0).
"Men" is performing for the network, Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of programming operations for CBS and UPN said. "Generally, we're pleased," Mr. Kahl said. "The competition in the hour has gotten much more difficult. We never expected it to do what 'Raymond' did."
An initial area of struggle for CBS was the time period premiere of the Wednesday 9 p.m. procedural "Criminal Minds," which scored a 3.3 in the demo, down 49 percent from its special Thursday debut the previous week and down 16 percent from the year-ago debuts of the time period's "King of Queens" and "Center of the Universe."
Not all Viacom networks had a disappointing 9 p.m. performance. UPN's "Veronica Mars" was down 24 percent to a 1.3 in the demo from last season's time period premiere of "Kevin Hill," but "Veronica" improved over its year-ago Tuesday premiere in a number of demos, including a 56 percent gain in women 18 to 34 (2.5) and more than doubling its female teen number (3.1).
"We did it a favor putting it behind '[America's Next] Top Model'; we didn't do it a favor putting it up against 'Lost.' Mr. Kahl said.