A Fan For All Seasons: Nets Embrace Summer Debuts

Forget the fall season. There's a new season of shows being premiered this summer, and all six networks will be airing programs this coming fall that debuted in the middle of last season as networks are starting to place greater emphasis and faith on the success of the mid-season replacement shows than on those making first appearances in the fall, an analysis by Horizon Media says.

While the traditional start of the second season is the beginning of the first quarter, the networks have debuted replacement shows during a variety of months, and this trend seems to be working in their favor, said Brad Adgate, senior vice president, director of research at Horizon.

"Based on the success of shows like NBC's 'Medium,' CBS' Numbers,' and ABC's 'Grey's Anatomy,' it looks like the networks are holding back some of the better shows," Adgate said.

Other shows that have seen life after their mid-season debut are NBC's 'The Office,' 'Cuts' on UPN, the WB's 'Living with Fran,' and 'Stacked' on Fox.



This trend could continue into the summer months as well with the broadcast networks debuting over a dozen new programs--and not all of them are reality, Adgate said.

"Besides competing with each other, the networks are also trying to keep viewers from straying to cable 12 weeks a year," Adgate said. "Based on all these factors, we see no reason why this trend of off-season debuts won't continue."

So far, the summer series are getting off to a strong start. ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" opened Wednesday with 13.5 million viewers, the biggest turnout for an unscripted summer debut since "Survivor" surfaced in 2000. And NBC's "Hit Me Baby One More Time" on Thursday was the week's top program among young adults, although it ranked just 17th in total viewers with a relatively modest 8.9 million. Fox's "The Inside" premiered against ABC's "Stars," and it averaged a 2.0 rating among 18-49s and 4.71 million total viewers.

As for some other shows, Adgate said he sees potential in The WB's "Beauty and The Geek," and CBS' "Fire Me Please" has gotten some good buzz, although it has garnered some scathing reviews as well. He also is interested in seeing David E. Kelley's "The Law Firm" on NBC where lawyers compete to win $250,000 to win a case, Mark Burnett's "Rockstar: INXS on CBS," and "The Princes of Malibu" on Fox.

"I think there's a lot of throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks," Adgate said. "Maybe one of these shows will become fodder for water-cooler talk. It didn't happen last year, but the summer is really becoming a serious place for previewing shows and testing viewers on what they like."

Networks began expanding their summer offerings when shows like "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" and "Survivor" captured the summer, when there was little competition around.

"The midseason and the summer was when networks typically burned off programs that weren't working," noted Tom Weeks, entertainment director for Starcom Entertainment. "But with the fall so crowded with other broadcast networks, in addition to cable, it makes sense to try to expand the platform for introducing new shows. While we're not at the point where it's a new season every few months, it seems to be getting there."

So far, the networks are trying to keep the season light, since most of the effort is still centered on the fall.

"There aren't really substantially more mid-season programs," said Steve Sternberg, executive vice president, director of audience analysis at Magna Global USA. "Last season, as we predicted, because there was so much fall reality series--more than a dozen flops--we started seeing scripted series replace them in mid-season. This year there are fewer reality shows in the fall, so we'll probably see more of them in mid-season. There does not seem to be a high number of mid-season series in development versus previous years--at least from what we've seen."

Several network sources did say that they are trying not to cram a bunch of new shows into the summer and mid-season, although they are giving a greater promotional push to a period that was considered barren of viewers.

"CBS' approach demands that we have fewer reality shows than the other guys, because we seriously are trying to find shows that have potential," said Chris Enders, a CBS spokesman. "But basically, we all want viewers to know that when it comes to the summer, the networks haven't gone fishing."

Media buyers and advertisers haven't gone fishing either, said Brian Terkelsen, senior vice president, director of entertainment marketing for MediaVest USA. "If you can create a loyal viewing public in the summertime, they will likely follow shows into the fall," Terkelsen said. "I think Fox discovered that with 'The OC.' And Fox will be launching the first few episodes of 'Prison Break' to whet the appetite and try to secure that audience prior to breaking for baseball. But we don't necessarily buy shows over networks. While there are definitely shows that we want to get involved in because of its alignment to a brand and or its demo, I would think that any astute advertiser would want to go wherever quality content will be, and it is quality that will attract particular consumers to a particular product.

"Advertisers are always looking for the best time to market and get their message out there," Terkelsen added. "So because of seasonality, if we have a brand that specifically needs summertime, we're going to go for the best programming possible."

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