Remember how some broadcast network execs said they can't take the summer off anymore and have to be in the business of year-round original programming? Well, there may be fewer summer repeats, but viewers are still trained to go cable once Memorial Day rolls around.
In the first nine weeks of the summer, the combined rating for all six networks is 43 percent lower than it was during the official TV season that ended on May 25. That's in line with last summer's decline of 40 percent. This summer, however, has been rougher for some networks than others. Here's how each of them is doing so far:
ABC – After a spectacular comeback season, it makes sense that the network of Desperate Housewives and Lost should be stronger. The summer audience is up 8 percent from a year ago, thanks to having the biggest reality hit, Dancing with the Stars. Brat Camp has also performed well, although it's faded a bit lately against Fox's So You Think You Can Dance?
CBS – Still the most-watched network, but not being watched as much: CBS is down 11 percent from last summer, although the decline is 8 percent among 18-to-49-year-olds. The Monday comedies aren't as strong as they were last summer. The Sunday newsmagazine 60 Minutes, usually a Top 10 show during the summer, is down an alarming 24 percent. Last summer it averaged 11.4 million viewers; this year it's down to 8.7 million. CBS also had higher expectations for talent contest Rock Star: INXS, for which it paid $2 million an episode. Big Brother has slipped lately, too.
NBC – The network's ratings tailspin that occurred during the season continued this summer; the Peacock is down in all but three of 44 half-hours on the schedule. Overall it's a 20 percent decline in viewers 18 to 49, which could mean more trouble ahead as the network tries to get promotional exposure for its new fall shows.
Fox – Its performance is even with last year's, but that's good when you consider that last season it launched expensive scripted shows (anybody remember Method & Red?) that opened well and then faded into obscurity. This summer Fox has remained in business with two strong reality shows, Hell's Kitchen and So You Think You Can Dance, fresh episodes of Family Guy and American Dad and repeats of House.
WB – Beauty and the Geek was a reality hit, but lately the rest of the schedule is all repeats, many of which are continuing dramas that don't do well in second runs. The result is an 11 percent decline in viewers and a 10 percent drop in 18-to-49-year-olds.
UPN – It's just about even with last year, though it has seen gains among women 18 to 34 and last week had a big lead over WB. Troubling fact: Cable network TNT had more viewers in June and July than either WB or UPN.