Bad economy good news for low-rated TV shows

Mon Oct 27, 2008 5:46am EDT
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Sarah Connor might have the struggling economy to thank for not being terminated.

Industry observers say the recent cluster of low-rated shows granted full-season orders might have something to do with network executives watching the plunging Dow rather than their shows' falling Nielsens.

No execs would talk on the record, but the economic crisis, combined with the cost of marketing a new series, the lack of new programing inventory because of the Hollywood writers strike and the anticipated difficulty of locking down new advertiser commitments, has networks inclined to play it safe.

"Most years there would be more cancellations then there have been to date," said John Rash, senior vp/director of media negotiations at ad agency Campbell Mithun. "But the dual dynamics of schedule stability keeping ad dollars in place is combining with delayed programing development from last season's writers strike."

NBC's "Knight Rider," ABC's "Private Practice" and Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" recently received orders for an additional nine episodes apiece. Such a move typically indicates a network's confidence in a show's performance and signals the inclination to keep a series on the air for the duration of the season.

But all three shows have posted modest ratings in recent weeks, with "Knight Rider" and "Terminator" having numbers that in previous years would have resulted in cancellation.

The most obvious reasons for the pickups are that many series this fall are doing poorly, and these shows are performing among the best of the worst. Networks are loath to exit the fall without at least one series to tout as a success. Plus, the writers strike, as Rash noted, has delayed quality midseason replacements. And with ratings declining overall because of increasing DVR penetration and audience erosion to cable networks and the Internet, the bar for success keeps being lowered.

But the added element of economic worries this fall makes picking up low-rated shows potentially more attractive, too.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Lena Headey sits during the panel for the FOX television series "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, California July 23, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>