Carat forecasts another cancellation-riddled TV season

Get ready for another frustrating TV season of cancellations and make-goods. Carat USA is projecting that close to one-third of new U.S. shows will tank before January 2005.
This prediction is part of Carat's '2004-2005 New Season Primetime Programming Report,' a mammoth 110-page analysis of the fall season network-by-network, night-by-night, as well as a marketplace overview and assessment of historical viewing and program trends, network strategies and schedules.

Get ready for another frustrating TV season of cancellations and make-goods. Carat USA is projecting that close to one-third of new U.S. shows will tank before January 2005.

This prediction is part of Carat’s ’2004-2005 New Season Primetime Programming Report,’ a mammoth 110-page analysis of the fall season network-by-network, night-by-night, as well as a marketplace overview and assessment of historical viewing and program trends, network strategies and schedules.

With Canadian broadcasters relying so heavily on U.S. programming, media buyers are monitoring the scheduling plans of networks south of the border because, as they know from past experience, a bad time-slot can be the death knell for programs that may be performing well in Canada.

Programming cancellations, changes, ongoing adjustments to client plans and negotiations for make-goods – and the piles of paperwork these entail – have continued through the summer, and Canadian buyers are bracing themselves for more of the same during the new TV season.

Florence Ng, VP of broadcast for Toronto-based ZenithOptimedia, says broadcasters have told buyers they’re going to have more patience this season and let the shows grow an audience rather than yanking them quickly. It’s more important for comedy than drama, she says, because with drama there is a plot people can follow but comedy is all about personalities.

Ng says reality programming has made it easy for broadcasters to pull underperforming shows. ‘There is so much reality-based programming on the shelf, all they do is put something in the schedule and if the show isn’t working, they just slot in a reality series. It’s not like they have to go out and develop another sitcom or drama.’

She really doesn’t expect that cycle to end. ‘Let’s face it, when you look at the high casualty rate of the new shows, it costs so much less to produce reality programming that that’s what they’re going to go with. It doesn’t matter how sleazy, there’s bound to be someone watching them.’

So far Ng is betting on only one new fall show to be a real hit, and that is CSI: NY, which CTV has picked up. She says the CSI franchise is a strong one; the cast is good, and with New York as the backdrop, there won’t be a lack of plot lines.

Canadian buyers have been quite vocal in their complaints about the large amounts of program cancellations and changes for CanWest Global stations. (The broadcaster had 6.5 hours of prime time on Global and 13 prime-time hours on CH to replace and fill for the fall schedules.)

Ng believes it will be another tough year for Global because it is relying so heavily on reality-based shows in prime time. She says even its highly touted Friends replacement Joey is not a sure thing because, although it’s scheduled in a pre-release position at 7:30 p.m. on Global, it’s up against the number-one show Survivor in the U.S.

The Carat USA report points out that out of 62 series that debuted last year across the six U.S. networks, only 18 of them will be back. Six of them are non-scripted. Thirty-eight replacement series were introduced during the fourth quarter of 2003, but only 13 have been renewed. Shari Anne Brill, VP, director of programming for Carat USA in New York, says usually only one-third of new shows are still around a year later, and this fall it doesn’t look much different.

So far, Brill says the survivors should include CSI: New York, Desperate Housewives, Boston Legal, Joey, Kevin Hill, and Jack and Bobby.

She also likes family drama, Clubhouse, on CBS but says it’s in a tough time period (Tuesday at 9:00 p.m.).

Of the new reality shows, Brill says Wife Swap looks like it may be a keeper. This show is based on a hit Brit series where two wives switch households and take over each other’s non-sexual tasks, the exciting stuff like laundry, cooking, and carpools.

Brill picked Wife Swap before Fox did some ambush programming and aired their Trading Spouses two months before the ABC show.

‘I don’t know how that will impact my high hopes for Wife Swap. Trading Spouses looks a little more exploitive. The twist with Trading Spouses is they’re told they’re each going to get $50,000 for their troubles. The catch is they have to spend the money for the other family. I think they deliberately picked families that will hate each other.’ Brill says the new fall season will have a narrower range of programming choices with numerous look-alike reality series and dramas, and is notable for the decline in the number of comedies.

There are some dominant programming themes. There are now scripted shows with legal themes, including four new series. Six police/investigation dramas have been added for a total of 20. Four new medical series have been added, bringing the tally to nine, both scripted and unscripted. Reality, where there are the most copycats, will account for 23 hours or 22% of the U.S. prime-time schedule this fall. They include The Benefactor and The Billionaire, brought in to capitalize on the popularity of last season’s The Apprentice.

Of course, not all will survive. The report says the fights to watch include The Benefactor, which is up against Fear Factor on the U.S. schedule. In the scripted heavyweights category, the gloves are off between NYPD Blue versus Law and Order: SVU on Tuesday evenings; Law and Order and CSI: NY on Wednesdays; Dr. Vegas and Medical Investigation on Fridays; and legal dramas Law and Order: Criminal Intent and The Partner on Sunday evenings.

Carat also says to expect more time-slot sharing as the networks move to more year-round programming and staggered launches. Programs that do not repeat well will have a short season and share the time-slot with another limited-run series. Some examples are The Swan and 24 on Fox, Desperate Housewives and Alias on ABC and West Wing and Revelations on NBC.

New Series Performance Predictions

Of the 35 shows that were announced by the six major U.S. broadcast networks for the 2004-2005 fall season, Carat USA expects one-third of them to be cancelled by January 2005.

YOU’RE HIRED STILL INTERVIEWING YOU’RE FIRED
ABC Desperate Housewives
Boston Legal
CBS CSI: New York
NBC Joey
FOX Quintuplets
WB Jack & Bobby
The Mountain
UPN Second Time Around
Kevin Hill
ABC The Benefactor
Lost
Complete Savages
Wife Swap
CBS Listen Up
Clubhouse
dr. vegas
NBC LAX
Medical Investigation
FOX The Billionaire
Method & Red
The Next Great Champ
UPN Veronica Mars
ABC Rodney
life as we know it
CBS Center of the Universe
NBC Father of the Pride
Hawaii
FOX House
The Jury
The Partner
WB Blue Collar TV
Drew Carey Green Screen
Studio 7
Commando Nanny

Grading Guidelines: You’re Hired (The show will also have the best chance of being renewed for next season); Still Interviewing (It may have a good concept but could suffer from poor schedule placement, or it could occupy a protected time period yet have a mediocre concept); and You’re Fired (The show meets one or more of the following criteria: weak concept, poor writing and/or unappealing characters. The show may or may not have good schedule placement)

(Source: Carat’s 2004-2005 New Season Primetime Programming Report)