March 27, 2008 / 5:58 AM / 10 years ago

Viewers ignore networks' new TV shows

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It’s been a midseason muddle for the broadcast networks.

<p>Cast member Julianna Margulies gestures at the panel for the FOX television series "Canterbury's Law" at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, California July 23, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

Most of the 10 comedies and dramas launched in the last three months, such as NBC’s high-profile Internet pickup “quarterlife” and Fox’s Julianna Margulies drama “Canterbury’s Law,” struck out with viewers.

The resumption of regular programming, as the industry slowly ramps up production following the 100-day writers strike, cannot come soon enough for the networks.

The walkout, which ended six weeks ago, transformed the TV schedule into a barren landscape of low-rated reruns and reality shows, not the best platform to promote new scripted offerings.

Midseason often is reserved for rolling out questionable shows that didn’t make the networks’ cut for fall. Some shows do find an audience, such as ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” NBC’s “Medium” and CBS’ “Rules of Engagement.” And Fox has regularly held off promising new entries to launch around midseason heavyweights “American Idol” and “24.”

This season, the midseason scripted batting average has been modest: CBS took one bite at the apple with the February comedy “Welcome to the Captain.” Airing amid repeats of its Monday night comedy block, “Captain” was sunk after five episodes.

NBC yanked “quarterlife” after a single episode in January. Soon after, the network debuted “Lipstick Jungle,” which has limped along Thursday nights with a season average of 6.7 million viewers.

ABC debuted “Miss Guided” after “Dancing With the Stars” last Tuesday. The sitcom averaged 9.3 million viewers, losing 7.7 million from its lead-in. When moved to its regular Thursday slot, the series dropped to a 6.3 million viewers. The drama “Eli Stone,” which airs against “Lipstick,” has given lukewarm returns with a 8.6 million viewers. Still, ABC is creatively pleased with the show, and “Stone” looks likely to return next season.

But the network with the worst -- and best -- track record is Fox.

Currently a lock to win the season, Fox’s January-launched “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” remains the highest rated of the midseason scripted flock with an average of 10.8 million viewers and is likely to return next fall.

On the downside, Fox recently threw four other shows against the wall that have largely failed to stick: the comedies “The Return of Jezebel James” and “Unhitched” and the dramas “Canterbury‘s” and “New Amsterdam.”

“Canterbury‘s” (6.7 million) was pushed from its Monday slot to Friday after two episodes. “Jezebel James” (3.2 million) won’t return after getting pulled off the schedule. “Unhitched” (4.7 million) is struggling on Sundays amid Fox’s animated comedies, which post higher numbers in repeats than “Unhitched” does in originals.

“Amsterdam,” which moved to Mondays after a two-night showcase after “Idol,” has held up best of the quartet with an average of 10.1 million viewers.

“I didn’t want to have anything left in the cupboard in case something surprised us,” said Preston Beckman, executive vp strategic program planning at Fox. “In the case of ‘New Amsterdam,’ we have evidence the show is catching on among viewers and we hope to see that translate into ratings.”

Of course, With “Idol” powering the network to weekly ratings victories, Fox can shrug off the missteps. And Beckman likewise noted the amount of reality programming on the air gave scripted shows an uphill battle.

“As all the nets put on more unscripted, it’s not the right environment to promote scripted shows,” he said. “It’s a different audience.”

With scripted shows like CBS’ Monday night comedy block returning to above-average ratings, networks are anticipating an influx of scripted TV fans as fall shows resume their runs. But whether any of the struggling midseason efforts will benefit from the on-air revival remains to be seen.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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