Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On TV Is It Content Or Time Slot?

Big collision of the new TV season was supposed to be the battle between CBS's NCIS, the top rated series and newcomer S.H.I.E.L.D.
In one corner there was the highly publicized new series featuring a plethora of super heroes.
And in the other there was steady NCIS which rarely gets even an Emmy nomination let alone a win.
And so what happened in the U.S. (Canadian ratings don't matter when it comes to cancellation or pick-up).
Well, the first night out NCIS took 19.5 million viewers against ABC's Marvel's Agents Of S.H/I.E.L.D which garnered 11.9 million viewers . NBC's The Voice got 14.1 million and Fox's Dads got 1.5 million.
So is this a victory of  content or time slot?
Well, I could see it all happening. Because this ratings game has played out similarly in seasons past.
Let's go all the way back to 1985 when Steven Spielberg made a much ballyhooed entry into TV with the series Amazing Stories.
NBC figured it could pick off Angela Lansbury in CBS's top rated Murder, She Wrote.
In fact Lansbury was so scared she even flew to the TV critics convention in Phoenix to tub thump for her show.
She should have stayed home in L.A. because Murder, She Wrote was a perfect fit for Sunday nights at 8.
In this case the time slot was Angela's for as long as she wanted it.
Case number two involves the super silly but very sexy Charlie's Angels which debuted on ABC in September 1976.
Creator Aaron Spelling told me the time slot was his --Wednesdays at 10 because ABC provided not one but two Top ten hits as lead-ins: Bionic Woman at 8 and Baretta at 9.
CBS had four comedies starting at 8 including All In The Family at 9 but Blue Knight at 10 didn't fit in with CBS's more mature viewers.
And NBC had a quality western The Quest with Kurt Russell at 10 but nobody watched with weak lead ins.
Sometimes a turkey can become a hit because of the time.
Brooke Shields' series Suddenly Susan was never a good series.
But NBC positioned it Thursdays at 9:30 Behind red hot Seinfeld and it was a hit. When NBC tried to move it later on the lame comedy sank like a stone.
Here the time slot was all important.
Having a great show means nothing if the time is wrong.
One of my favorite ever legal dramas 1978's The Paper Chase debuted on CBS to rave reviews but it was up against both Happy Days and Laverne And Shirley.
Nobody watched it and it quickly expired.
But sometimes fate steps in.
I was in the office of Earl Hamner in August 1972 and he showed me a letter from the CBS president which simply stated "Make Us Proud".
Hamner's show, The Waltons, debuted opposite two big hits, ABC's The Mod Squad and NBC's Flip Wilson which was the number one show.
After the first season The Mod Squad was killed off and Flip Wilson only had one more season before being consigned to the rerun market.
The Waltons came along just as these two Top Ten hits were starting to show their ages.
So while I wish S.H.I.E.L.D. all the luck in the world my memo to ABC is to move it quickly.
Because NCIS looks to have several more seasons at the top before syndication.
ABC loses this one on the basis of both content and time slot.

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