ABC Happily 'Lost’ and 'Desperate’

ABC stations are in love with horny housewives and deserted islands. This November sweeps, ABC’s prime time soap Desperate Housewives, island thriller Lost and feel-good reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are delivering big national Nielsen numbers, key 18-49 demos and loads of media attention. All of which should translate into millions of ad dollars.

“We deserve it,” says WXYZ Detroit General Manager Grace Gilchrist. “We’ve been waiting a long time.”

If the hits were 10 p.m. shows, it would be even better. Stations rely on that last hour of prime to pour viewers into their late local newscasts. CBS stations, for example, benefit from three CSI dramas a week; NBC stations have Law & Order and ER. Unfortunately for ABC, Desperate Housewives airs at 9 p.m. ET and Lost at 8 p.m., leaving a crucial gap before the late news.

Still, few ABC station execs are complaining. Recent seasons have been admittedly rough: ABC’s schedule was weak, the marketing and promotion bland. “We were lucky to be third,” says Don Lundy, vice president and general manager for WRTV Indianapolis. Not anymore.

Desperate Housewives is the hottest thing in Cincinnati,” says Bill Fee, vice president and general manager for WCPO. “ABC didn’t have one good night, and now they have two.”

Across the country, Desperate Housewives is sizzling, a marked improvement over the timeslot’s previous occupant, Alias. In New York, Desperate Housewives averaged an 18.5 household rating/25 share, up 203% from Alias’ marks, according to October Nielsen metered-market ratings. Pittsburgh and Detroit boast the best Desperate Housewives numbers: a 21.9/28 share each, triple Alias’ ratings. The sexy show does well across the heartland, too, posting a 17.4/23 in Oklahoma City and a sweet 19.7/26 in Kansas City, Mo.

Similarly, Lost grabs better ratings than last fall’s sitcom hour of My Wife and Kids and It’s All Relative. Two of the strongest Lost markets are Philadelphia, with a 19.4/27, up 47% over a year ago, and Orlando, Fla., with a 16.1/ 23, up 125%. Metered-market household ratings give stations—and advertisers—a sense of the climate, but they cut deals based on demographic ratings recorded during sweeps. (The five markets with local people meters are exceptions, since the LPMs provide daily demo ratings.)

After November sweeps, the sales departments will have fresh data, and “these shows skew to a very saleable demo,” notes Lundy.

ABC’s hits, station executives say, pump up the rest of the schedule. Reruns of Desperate Housewives on Saturday nights are lifting that low-rated night. Morning-news ratings spike on Monday and Thursday mornings after the dramas air. (Some local general managers speculate that TV sets are still tuned to ABC from the previous night.) Plus, those huge Desperate Housewives and Lost audiences see promotions for newscasts and other programs.

For ABC’s new entertainment chief, Steve McPherson, the critical and financial accolades garner him high marks. But station managers are eager to see him develop 10 p.m. shows.

Says WXYZ’s Gilchrist, “That is the next frontier, and it will be a big challenge.”

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