Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: June 13, 2005 at 12:20 AM
ESPN, DISNEY CHANNEL, ABC FAMILY, E!, THE STYLE NETWORK, SOAPNET, LIFETIME, A&E, THE HISTORY CHANNEL, THE BIOGRAPHY CHANNEL
Dayamn! I didn't realize how many friggin' channels Disney owned. And I'm NOT going over all of them. And I shouldn't need to as most of that list doesn't rise or fall much from season to season. Especially channels like E!, Style, History Channel, Biography Channel and the Disney Channel, which tend to be background noise in many homes. Get home. Pick one. Pay attention every so often.
The ups and downs belong mostly to ABC Family and ESPN. ABC Family, while showing recent gains, is still YEARS from becoming a player and making back some of the insane amount of money Michael Eisner paid for it.
ESPN, on the other hand, continues to chug along, as promised threats to its dominance are still nowhere to be found. The NFL channel was SUPPOSED to take ESPN - and maybe ABC - out of the running by airing games on their channel. ABC is out of the running (next year) but ESPN will be airing football on Monday nights instead and NBC now owns football on Sunday nights. Fox Sports Channels were SUPPOSED to be consolidating their localized sports networks into a national ESPN-killer, but that keeps not happening. The Maloofs, owners of the Sacramento Kings, were SUPPOSED to be starting one themselves, but those guys are too busy trying to screw over Sacramento taxpayers for a new arena. Meanwhile, ESPN continues to dominate a field it basically monopolizes. And will continue to do so until someone gets on the ball.
And here we get down to the big one. The network that made more than a billion in profits but has proceeded to lose money soon after Eisner snagged it. Well, two "little" shows have turned the network around (five years later!) and money is finally being made! It's the greatest network ever now!
At least according to the media. "ABC is back!" Yeah, back to the middle. Like any media bandwagon that never seems to stop rolling, you need to read between the spokes, so to speak. One ratings calculator put ABC in second place for the year, the other in third. Really, though, the whole thing is moot, as the average viewers for ABC, Fox and NBC differs by about 300,000. Without the success of latecomer Grey's Anatomy, ABC would have finished behind fourth-place NBC, so all this "ABC is THE network!" and "NBC is pathetic!" starts becoming a little transparent, doesn't it?
Even worse, and what isn't being focused on nearly enough, is the little fact that ABC finished FAR BEHIND ratings champ CBS (about 2.8 million viewers ahead of the pack) and behind the coveted 18-to-49-demo champ Fox. So what's with all the bragging? Well, ABC has been hogging that fourth-place spot for quite some time, with basically no hope of ever improving from most of the media. Eisner and Iger were too uncreative and too intrusive. CBS and NBC had too many hits that were spawning hits of their own. And Fox had American Idol which just killed anything in its vicinity.
So how did ABC improve? Well, NBC flatlined, opening up the door for someone else to fill the void. And ABC and Fox both obliged. Lloyd Braun, ABC's now-ousted programming chief, is mostly responsible for choosing the two shows that sparked this renaissance - Lost and Desperate Housewives - but that bandwagon has more than its share in the responsibility. How many times were the stars of each show on TV Guide or Entertainment Weekly or other entertainment mags? And how many times did you see the stars of other new shows Medium, House or Boston Legal, all of which were Top 30 shows also? All three of those shows got one cover apiece, if I am recalling correctly. There's reporting on a hit show, and then there is helping create that hit.
And that's one of the problems ABC faces next season. EW and TV Guide and their lesser competitors will focus on the Next Big Things and forget about these two hits. The women of Housewives can make it up by appearing all over women's mags, but where will the male-heavy Lost cast go to replace all that free advertising?
And Lost, right now, is the focus of next season. The media, which slobbered all over the series during the season, is surprisingly starting to dump all over the finale. Will Lost be next season's The Apprentice, the show that millions abandoned in its second season, firing up the It's Over media bandwagon? With an almost brand-new Wednesday night surrounding it, there could be trouble. George Lopez (82nd) and Freddie come before the moved Lost, which is then followed by the brand-new drama Invasion. Without even looking at the competition, you have to wonder what kind of lead-ins the underperforming Lopez and the new Freddie Prinze Jr sitcom, which is already being touted as one of the worst new shows of the Fall Season, will be. Smartly, ABC slotted their Lost wannabe Invasion right after the hit it spawned. But does it ever have a long row to hoe. It's up against two biggies in NBC's Law & Order and new time-slot champ CSI: NY. And it seems a little too much like Lost to boot. Weird things happen to people after a plane crash? How about, Weird things happen to people after a hurricane? The weird things will be aliens, which also rarely work, and EW has already trashed the commercials, so I'm predicting another loser for ABC in this timeslot.
The sitcom timeslot at 8 shouldn't fare well either. Going up against the dying That 70's Show (sans stars Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher to boot) and the why-did-they-renew-THAT Stacked is a smart move, but the 82nd-place Lopez will also be taking on the shockingly high-ranking Still Standing (46th) while the sure-to-bomb Freddie will take on the equally shocking kinda-hit Yes, Dear (54th). But the show that certainly made ABC hiccup was NBC's announcement of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, which will certainly win this timeslot and help NBC in its quest to claw back above ABC.
Which brings us back to Lost. ABC may have lucked out enormously as their hit show will face three new dramas. And EW claims all three shows are not very promising. Fox's Head Cases stars Chris O'Donnell and Adam Goldberg as odd-couple lawyers. Ummm, okay. NBC's E-Ring has Jerry Bruckheimer, L&O's Ben Bratt (I guess he isn't Benjamin anymore) and Dennis Hopper, but it is about the Pentagon, so it might come off more West Wing than CSI. CBS's Criminal Minds, on the other hand, seems to be not-so-promising simply because it is one of many police procedurals. That's a dumb reason to dump on the show, which features another great cast, including Mandy Patinkin, Thomas Gibson and Shemar Moore. People will probably see this show for what it is - basically CSI meets Quantico - and tune right in for the two-hour CBS murder block. While Lost will probably win its timeslot, the stronger lead-ins on NBC on CBS should help them both split up both the non-Lost watchers and the ones who gradually abandon the show throughout the season. Nostradumbass thinks Lost will start out on top, but won't end the season there.
Okay, so let's get away from the bad news and move on to this season's - and next season's - stellar night for ABC. Sunday! The three later shows - Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy - all finished in the Top 15. Forget about the 7pm slot. ABC sure has with 63rd-place America's Funniest Home Videos. And who's kidding whom? The other channels all have also. NBC has yet ANOTHER Dateline here (71st) and Fox usually hopes their football game goes long. In fact, Fox doesn't even plan on airing anything new in the 7-7:30 slot while football airs. This might help, as last year's 7pm show, King of the Hill fell to 114th place. (For reference, the UPN/WB filled every spot from 133rd and below, but four of their shows still finished higher than this.) Still, 18th-place 60 Minutes OWNS this lowly timeslot, as it has since dinosaurs roamed the earth - or at least since their reporters came down from the trees.
So why will ABC still own Sunday? Well, NBC is throwing caution to the wind by having two transforming shows here, The West Wing (34th) with its new President and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (28th) with its revolving leads. Crossing Jordan (30th) ends their night, and while this isn't a blockbuster evening, 34th is the lowest-ranked show here, and that is extremely respectable. Even more respectable is CBS, with 8pm's Cold Case (17th) and 9pm's two-hour CBS Sunday Movie (32nd). With all these shows doing so well, it's amazing ABC was able to get one Top 15 show, let alone three. Obviously someone is paying the price, and that someone is Fox. Which is unfortunate since the net airs the highest-quality shows on Sunday. The Simpsons once a Top 20 staple, fell to 50th. Arrested Development, the BEST show on television, fell to 101st, even with the Simpson clan as a lead-in. The late additions of American Dad (63rd) and Family Guy (76th) did not help matters in the night's toughest hour, the 9-10 slot. Except for King moving back an hour, the rest of the Fox schedule remains the same, but Arrested has been controversially moved to another night to be replaced by a new Michael Rapaport-starring sitcom. Good luck with that, Fox. Do The Simpsons a favor and move them out of this horribly competitive night before you kill it! Anyhow, sophomore shows Housewives and Anatomy should remain on top, but expect the usual sophomore slump for both shows. I say the ladies of Wisteria Lane will remain in the Top Ten, but don't expect the ladies of that goofy hospital to keep their precarious position there.
So let's move forward to another easy ABC night: Monday. Easy only for the fall, as Monday Night Football (11th) will benefit from the retirement of Everybody Loves Raymond (10th). Of course Two and a Half Men tied the football games for 11th, but don't automatically expect that show to do as well without its popular leadin. 53rd-place Wife Swap will either start or finish the night, depending on the coast, and it's not scaring anyone though. In fact, when football ends its run on ABC this winter, that's when the network will have to start worrying about this night. Strong schedules on NBC - new Lost-alike Fathom (weird sea creatures) will start off a night already strong with Las Vegas (32nd) and new hit Medium (20th) - and CBS - King of Queens (47th), new and buzzed-about How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, new comedy Out of Practice with Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler and from the creators of Frasier (which CBS must be high on to give such prestigious placement), and 7th-place CSI: Miami, the true star of Monday night. Even worse for ABC's future is the promising Prison Break over on Fox. Not promising for Fox is that they moved Arrested Development from one competitive timeslot to another, this time at 8. And then followed it up with Kitchen Confidential which has no buzz whatsoever, but is from the producers of Sex and the City and Just Shoot Me so who knows? (Please, just move The Simpsons and Arrested to somewhere safe and I'll shut up!) ABC will survive the winter, but will fall apart when 24 (29th) returns next year.
So on to Tuesday. (A perfect night for a Simpsons/Arrested block, Fox!) Bad BAD news for ABC. (Even with Fox's buzzfree Bones, a CSI wannabe with skeletons, taking the 8pm slot that so belongs to two other shows I can think of.) The night starts with the atrocious According to Jim (43rd... about 100 places too high), followed by the why'd-they-renew-that Rodney (57th), the new and well-received Commander-in-Chief starring Geena Davis as the President and finishing off with Boston Legal (27th). With the so-so-performing sitcoms up against the far-better-performing NCIS (21st) on CBS and the also-better-performing Biggest Loser (40th) on NBC, not to mention Bones which might do well but will end up being replaced by American Idol in January, this will hopefully be the end of those lameass sitcoms. (Also, the truly excellent America's Next Top Model which I like to call Top Notch Beeyotch airs here! YAY!) I don't care how much the critics think of Geena's term in office, she is going up against new hit House (24th) and the improving Amazing Race (31st and 25th). ABC's one hope is NBC's sitcom block, with Jason Lee's well-received My Name is Earl followed by the underperforming The Office (106th). But even those could outperform a drama about a female President in a time when politics isn't being well-received by the American viewing public. It won't last the year. ABC's hit Boston Legal (27th) could be facing problems in its new timeslot as it faces NBC's formidable Law & Order: SVU (23rd) and CBS's new entry Close to Home another female-skewing lawyer show. I think Boston Legal will outperfrom the new show, but will drop below the redhot SVU. All it has to do is outperform previous slot-holders NYPD Blue (43rd) and Blind Justice (63rd), which it should do easily. So then they can focus on the first two hours!
Wednesday got done, so on to Thursday, the most competitive night of the week. Why? Because film studios will pay more for advertising on Thursday nights than on any other night. So if the nets throw on a advertiser-approved show on Thursday, they will pay handsomely for ad time. Which is why the 8pm slot looks like this: ABC's Alias (39th), CBS's Survivor (5th and 6th), NBC's Joey/Will & Grace block (43rd, 41st) and Fox's The OC (87th). If you needed further proof of the Thursday factor, just check out how low Fox has allowed The OC to fall. And yet it comes back to the same slot. ABC evidently expects Alias to plummet too, but it is apparently the show they felt they could afford to hurt, after all it has never been that popular. 9pm will be interesting, though. CBS's CSI (2nd... on Nielsen... Arbitron has it 1st) will still own the slot, and NBC's The Apprentice (13th and 19th) has a chance to improve with the Martha Stewart edition on the night before. Fox's promising Reunion, a sort-of mix of Housewives' murder mystery with Lost's backstory element, already has major buzz, as does ABC's Night Stalker remake. A timeslot can't maintain four hits (check out The OC) so one of these will have to go. Or at least go elsewhere. I think the Alias watchers would be more likely to switch over to CSI than the OC watchers, so ABC could be in trouble. But if Night Stalker can stay above 50th and keep up the buzz, it will do its job. Of course, at 10pm, we have ABC's Primetime Live (87th) up against the killer duo of CBS's Without a Trace (8th) and NBC's ER (16th). That won't change, but ABC isn't spending much on their "news" show, so they're fine with it.
And Friday. Crappy crappy Friday. Where shows go to die. Or where they begin and die. Seriously, Joan of Arcadia rocked Friday and then was canceled the following year. Where Medical Investigation started out strong and died before the year was over. Where ABC has one remaining sitcom from its onceong sitcom block. Friday has now apparently become the place to put new shows. Maybe because there's so little competition here. Or because these aren't necessarily the networks' strongest shows. Like ABC's Hot Properties, a Sex and the City clone that will follow ABC's survivor Hope & Faith for a one-hour sitcom block at 9pm. The cheap, but decently-performing Supernanny (57th) replaces the old sitcom block at 8pm. Similarly, the sitcoms will also be followed by the cheap shell-of-what-it-used-to-be 20/20 (63rd). Speaking of that shell, it should continue to be killed by new CBS hit Numbers (34th, and I will NOT replace the "e" with a "3") and might be killed by NBC newcomer Inconceivable, a Grey's Anatomy in a fertility clinic. Yeah, I know it doesn't sound good, but we're talking a John Stossel-led 20/20, with its missing-white-girl-of-the-week "news" stories! Supernanny should outperform Fox's death-rattling sitcoms Malcolm in the Middle (103rd) and Bernie Mac (115th). The real question marks are CBS's atrociously-named Ghost Whisperer - basically Medium with the who-cares Jennifer Love Hewitt in the lead - and NBC's Three Wishes - basically Extreme Makeover: Little Things Edition but with way more schmaltz. I wouldn't watch that with someone else's eyes, but it will probably be a mild hit, especially with TLC chick-magnets Carter Oosterhouse and Eric Stromer helping out. Ghost Whisperer may be the one to find an early exit, along with Fox's comedies, which can only help ABC in this weirdass timeslot. And back at 9pm, how will the 89th-place Kelly Ripa sitcom do out there on its own? Well, it is still up against another hour of Dateline, but this one is the highest-rated, finishing in 60th last year. But both middle-of-the-packers will be up against Fox's The Gate, basically Law & Order: Really Deviant Crimes Unit with two stars from The OC leading and the ever-valuable Chi McBride providing valuable support. If they play up the fact that it was created by CSI creator Josh Berman, this could be the next fairly big thing. Also in this slot, is CBS's promising Threshold, another Lostified series featuring something mysterious (proof of aliens AGAIN) with a great cast, including Carla Gugino, Charles S Dutton, Peter Dinklage, Brent Spiner and even Lost's evil Ethan in a recurring role. But both these shows do have weak lead-ins, unless people suddenly start giving a damn about Hewitt, so that's always a challenge. But BOTH should still beat what ABC and NBC are offering.
And then Saturday. Oh, who cares? Seriously. Even CBS uber-prez Les Moonves only considers his channel as having 6 nights of programming. ABC has backed off its repeat idea, though, and will somehow air movies for all three hours. Expect LOTS of ABC ads during these flicks.
And that's how Nostradumbass sees it. CBS will still kill. They might even IMPROVE on last year! Fox will improve on last year, as their 2004-2005 second-or-third finish was due almost entirely to an extremely poor Fall performance. With new hit House and mild hit Nanny 911 ready to fill any underperforming slot, the net should have a much better Fall, and the remaining underperformers will then disappear in January, when killers American Idol and 24 reappear. The only fight here is between ABC and NBC. With NBC having more promising new shows, ABC will need continued performance out of last year's biggest hits - Housewives, Lost, Anatomy, Extreme Makeover and Boston Legal. I just don't think that is possible. ABC will make money, which it hasn't done until last season, but it should still end up in fourth, at least until midseason rolls around.
That's Nostradumbass's two pennies... give him yours! (Just make it a little bit shorter!)