The networks still aren't lighting up Friday nights. Attempts this fall to reclaim the night with original scripted programming were over before they even began: Fox punted Touch to January; NBC yanked Whitney and Community at the very last minute; and the first cancellation of fall was CBS' Friday drama dud Made in Jersey.
"It all comes back to a lot of changing viewership habits," says Andy Kubitz, ABC Entertainment Group's executive vice president of program planning and scheduling. "People aren't staying around to watch TV on Fridays."
Viewership on the night has grown fragmented, with kids watching Disney Channel comedies and many young adults tuning in to Discovery Channel's testosterone-fueled shows like Yukon Men. Many TV households aren't even watching live TV on Fridays; they're catching up on their DVRs. During premiere week, 5.4 million adults 18-49 were watching time-shifted programming on Friday at 9 p.m., compared to 1.9 million watching the hour's top-rated show in the demo, Grimm.
The networks often announce fall schedules packed with scripted series on Friday because it's easier to sell those shows to advertisers. But once ratings come into play, it's tough to keep that promise. That's why you see so many shows announced for Friday that never actually air on the night.
The top-rated show on Friday night among adults 18-49 is now surging reality series Shark Tank. "We're lucky to have a great story on the night, appealing to the available audience," Kubitz says. DVR lift helps some of the evening's dramas, including Grimm and Fringe, but low ratings still make it difficult to invest too much into airing scripted series. Friday's most watched drama, CBS' Blue Bloods, is helped by the fact that it attracts a large number of older viewers (perhaps the last demo still watching broadcast TV on the night in significant numbers).
"I think you can still be successful [on Friday night], although the success bar is clearly different," says one network exec. "I don't think it's that much worse than the other nights on a relative basis, which is more of a sad commentary on the other nights. It's quite clear [Friday] is nobody's first priority."
NBC's decision to yank Community and Whitney off Fridays came so close to the shows' original October 19 premiere that publications including TV Guide Magazine had already gone to press touting their returns. But NBC execs realized that they had not bothered to promote the new comedy block and the ratings would have been disastrous. (Whitney will now take over the Wednesday 8/7c slot vacated by the canceled Animal Practice; Community is still waiting on an airdate.)
Fox faced a similar dilemma with Touch. Season 2 of the Kiefer Sutherland drama was about to launch with little promotion in a tough Friday night timeslot; instead, Fox will now save it until midseason, when the show can run a full slate of original episodes. Kitchen Nightmares will air on Fridays at 8/7c in place of Sutherland this fall.
Next up, ABC will attempt to launch a first-run Friday night comedy hour on November 2 with Last Man Standing and Malibu Country. "No lie, it's going to be very difficult," Kubitz says. "But Last Man Standing is a known quantity. We wouldn't want to launch something new there totally cold."
The networks say they're committed to making sure Friday doesn't go the way of Saturday, which they gave up a few years ago. Says Kubitz, "We can't keep giving away nights. It's important to primetime and important to the TV industry. We're going to have to work hard to keep finding who's at home watching TV on the night."
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