October 19, 2004

ABC looking to give CBS a black eye

Led by ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ABC gives chase to No. 1 network by scoring breakout hits.

With "Friends" gone from NBC Thursday, "CSI" (CBS, 9 p.m.) has absolutely taken over this fall, pulling in 28 million viewers a week, and becoming the new icon for network dominance. At present, CBS has a stranglehold on five of the top seven shows, thanks in large to its flag-ship show: "CSI" first, followed by "Without a Trace" (Thursday, 10 p.m.), "CSI: Miami" (Monday, 10 p.m.), "Everybody Loves Raymond" (Monday at 9 p.m.), and "Survivor: Vanuatu" (Thursday, 8 p.m.).

Things are looking mighty fine for the Eye, but in television, you can only stay on top for so long, and that Eye is staring straight into the heart of a rival network these days: ABC.

ABC has emerged this fall by implementing a new tactic: Give the people something different and they will watch it.

Leading the resurgence for ABC is "Desperate Housewives," (Sunday, 9 p.m. on ABC), an edgy new domestic drama that has already done what no show was able to do in the last few seasons: become an instant breakout hit.

Nestled inside a crazy day of hodgepodge programming, "Housewives" has been winning its time slot with more than 17 million viewers, and is currently the fourth-highest rated show on television.

There’s nothing quite like it anywhere, networks or cable. It's not exactly a prime time soap opera, but there's definite cheese there. There's mystery, and there's something "Twin Peaks" about it, too. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the narrator offed herself in the first few minutes of episode one. David Lynch would be proud.

This is a drastic change of tactics for Disney-owned ABC, which tried a few years ago to become the official "family" network.

The whole TV scene may in fact be ripe for a major shift, which usually comes when the industry becomes too diluted with similar shows.

History has also proven that networks don’t stay down for long. It was only a few years ago that CBS was considered too old, with viewership considered unattractive by advertisers. That was back when NBC trotted out a stable of viable sitcoms, including "Seinfeld," "Frasier," "Friends," and the ageless "ER," which still manages 17 million viewers.

But before NBC’s "must-see" lineup cornered the 18-49 demographic of the mid-’90s, ABC had thoroughbreds of its own during a frequently overlooked epoch in TV history.

"Roseanne," which is hard to find even in syndication, was a powerhouse in the late '80s and early '90s. A rare darling of both critics and fans, the show resurrected the working class family from the TV graveyard, something that hadn’t really been done since "All in the Family." People forget that "Roseanne" was in fact so successful, ABC would air it twice a week.

ABC went different with "Roseanne," and went different with another big hit – this one panned by critics. "America's Funniest Home Videos" bulled its way into Sunday nights in 1989, a night that traditionally reserved, almost by default, for "60 Minutes" and "Murder She Wrote" on CBS. Now ABC has infiltrated Sunday — again.

Over on Wednesday nights, the infection has spread. Another break-out show, "Lost," (8 p.m.) has been winning that night for the network.

Again, using a traditional formula, but mixing in a touch of the bizarre, ABC has found a blueprint to win, not just time slots, but entire nights.

The Eye must be twitching.

From an upcoming column in the Reading Eagle


At 6:58 PM, Blogger Tom G. said...

Speaking of shows that were a bit different, I was disappointed "Ed" on NBC didn't make this years rotation.

"Hey Ed, I'll give you ten bucks if you..."


Post a Comment

<< Home