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September 28, 2009

Surprise: Audiences checking out new shows this fall

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After two years of new shows opening to middling numbers, broadcast is showing renewed signs of life this fall.

Many veteran series continue to decline, but audiences are checking out new programs in higher-than-expected numbers.

"Viewers have shown an encouraging willingness to sample new shows," said John Rash, senior vp-director of media negotiations at Campbell-Mithun. "It's proving that the death of the scripted series, let along network TV, is greatly exaggerated."

After only a few weeks, broadcasters have rolled out six new shows that generated at least a 4.0 rating among adults 18-49 in their series premiere: NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" (5.3); Fox's "The Cleveland Show" (4.9); CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles (4.4); and ABC's "Cougar Town" (4.4), "Modern Family" (4.2) and "FlashForward" (4.0).

By comparison, at the same point last year, the highest-rated new show was "Worst Week" (3.8), which benefited from the biggest comedy lead-in on TV in CBS' Monday night block.

"It was really terrific week for network TV," CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said. "People sampled new shows, they came back for returning shows. Practically every network had something to feel good about. We got people back in the house."

Even syndication, which has been particularly hard hit in recent years, has a reason to celebrate. Freshman talker "The Dr. Oz Show" has performed very well in daytime.

" 'Dr. Oz' appears to be a hit," said Bill Carroll, vp-director of programming at Katz Television. "It's still too early to know for sure, but the early numbers are promising."

Carroll gave some credit for broadcast's numbers to Jay Leno's nightly primetime show, saying that all the media attention surrounding the program and relatively early premiere might have helped other premieres.

"After being focused on cable all summer, all of the attention around Jay Leno caused viewers to check out broadcast again," he said.

While every network seems to have a reason to celebrate this week, each also has a couple of concerns.

CBS generated a jaw-dropping rating for the return of Tuesday's "NCIS" and its new spinoff and also drew a sizable audience for new drama "The Good Wife." Longtime Thursday procedural "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," however, continues to take worrisome hits since the departure of William Petersen last year.

Fox's "House" was one of the few veteran shows to improve this fall, and the network's Thursday lineup of "Bones" and "Fringe" has improved the network's time periods in the evening, though "Fringe" is taking a pounding from tough competition in the slot.

ABC opened new Wednesday comedies "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town" to network TV's biggest half-hour premieres in two years, while also launching Thursday night drama "FlashForward" to a terrific number for its early 8 p.m. time period. The ABC pilots also picked up some encouraging additional sampling on Friday night in repeats. Sunday's "Desperate Housewives" fell steeply, but fellow top-rated soap "Grey's Anatomy" only dropped modestly on Thursday.

"Jay Leno" continues to draw better-than-expected numbers for NBC while also steadily eroding. Wednesday's "Mercy" opened modestly, and Thursday's second episode of "Community" fell more than one might hope.

The second week for the CW's "Vampire Diaries" managed not to blink in the face of increased fire, while the network swapped out Wednesday's "The Beautiful Life: TBL" -- which was canceled after two airings -- for "Melrose Place" repeats in hopes of pumping some life into the soap remake.

Oftentimes the media is writing about massive failure across the board at this point during the fall,” said Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman. “The product is good this year and I think there's a lot of good news for broadcast television.”


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