Jon Tenney, Kyra Sedgwick and JK Simmons by Andrew Eccles/TNT
Judging from the press cable networks were able to get this summer, you'd think the broadcast networks went out of business. TNT's
set a ratings record for a scripted cable drama and helped launch a new hit in
scored strong numbers and good reviews for their networks. Even movie channel AMC was able to establish an appointment show with
. And, oh yeah, there was a little movie on the Disney Channel called
High School Musical 2
But the ratings for this past summer are not out of line with what's gone on in past years. Every summer broadcast-network audiences drop off substantially from what they draw during the TV season, while cable sees a spike. But the influx of originals on cable should have been an added ratings boon this summer, right? Yes, the broadcast networks were off 13 percent from last summer among the advertiser-coveted audience of viewers ages 18 to 49 (exclude sports and the decline was 9 percent). But basic cable was up only 1 percent in the demo over last summer. The rating for the average new summer show on the broadcast networks was actually equal to what it was last year.
It turns out the real hit of the summer was not even a show - it was the digital video recorder. Last summer, only 6.9 percent of the 18-to-49-year-olds in the Nielsen sample had one. This summer it was 17.9 percent. DVR playback in prime time was up 146 percent over last summer. The show with the most playback? The Sunday edition of CBS'
Big Brother 8
. A lot of that time watching DVR'd shows pulled viewers away from the broadcast networks.
It also didn't help that drama repeats continue to perform horribly. Last summer the rating for a drama repeat dropped 59 percent from its original run. This year it was a 66 percent drop. No wonder the networks devoted 31 percent of their schedules to reality programming.
So the broadcast networks shouldn't be too bummed about this summer, right? Wrong. The real victory for cable networks this summer was their ability to dominate the buzz around the watercooler or the deck of the pool. Scripted shows with big-name stars garner attention. What would you do if you were a journalist who covered TV - write about Glenn Close or
? The only way the broadcast networks can fight back is by running some scripted originals of their own during the summer.