Bringing some fiscal responsibility back to prime time -- and perhaps acting a bit more like a cable network -- ABC is sending out the word that it's looking for super-low-cost programming for the loneliest night of the week, Saturday.
Saturdays bring in fewer broadcast prime-time viewers then any other night. Many networks run repeats, low-cost movies, and other throwaway stuff. Now ABC is telling agencies and producers it will set the bar at a mere $500,000 per episode or less for Saturday programming --- far below prime-time hour prices that can rise to $2 million in some cases.
For $500,000, your money doesn't get you much -- a reality competition show, a warm and fuzzy, feel-good reality show, or perhaps a studio-based game effort. "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" or "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" would be good examples.
ABC is a strong network these days. When in a position of strength, companies typically spend more to outdo their competition. Low-cost programming seems like reverse thinking. But actually creating original programming -- versus airing reruns -- for this particular night of the week would be an improvement for network schedules.
ABC, CBS and NBC have been out of original programming on Saturday night for some time -- though Fox has remained a player on Saturday, doing well with its longtime first-run unscripted shows "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted."
These low-cost reality shows are what ABC is really angling for. Cost was the genre's original drawing card: shows were cheap to make and allowed networks to charge low license fees. One downside: reality doesn't repeat very well.
However, when reality started to thrive, producers such as Mark Burnett could command up to $2 million an episode. In light of these prices, ABC is asking producers to get real again and place some shows in the discount aisle.