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'Big Bang' Begins With a Big Bang

Aa expected—and hoped and prayed for by those who paid big bucks for it—Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory burst out of the gate this season with a very healthy 4.5 live plus same day national household ratings average, according to Nielsen, followed by a 5.0 in week two. That immediately puts the show in second place among all off-net sitcoms, following only Warner Bros.’ megahit Two and a Half Men.

In fact, Bang’s 4.5 and 5.0 far surpass the 3.6 and 3.9 rating that Two and Half Men opened with in 2007. Men was exclusive to broadcast for its first three years, which some feel gave it an advantage. Bang airs concurrently on TBS on Tuesdays from 8 to 11 p.m. ET and on Thursdays from 9 to 11 p.m., as well as on Saturdays. So far, those runs are only contributing nine-tenths of a ratings point to Bang’s overall ratings average, which means it still opened bigger than Men, even with its cable airings factored out.

One emerging trend is that Bang tends to perform better in markets where it is paired with Men, which isn’t surprising considering that both shows are created and executive produced by Chuck Lorre and air on CBS.

For example, on Tribune’s Fox affiliate KCPQ Seattle, Two and a Half Men airs at 7 p.m. and Big Bang airs at 7:30. In that market, Men and Bang pack a one-two punch in access among the key adult 25-54 demographic, winning the time period with Men’s 2.2/6 and Bang’s 3.0/7. Similarly, the two are performing well on Tribune’s independent WPHL Philadelphia at a 2.0/6 and 1.4/4 at 7 and 7:30 p.m. in the demo, although that’s only good enough for fourth place in the time period. And across the Fox-owned stations, Bang is strongest on KMSP Minneapolis, the only market where it is paired with Men.

In markets where the two shows compete against each other, including Los Angeles and Chicago, both take a hit. In Los Angeles, for example, Bang airs on Fox-owned KTTV, which double-runs the show at 7 and 7:30 against Tribune’s double-run of Two and a Half Men. Among adults 25-54, Bang is doing a 0.9/3 at 7 p.m. and a 0.6/2 at 7:30, compared to Men’s 0.4/2 and 0.7/2.

“These shows should not be competing against each other. You water down Bang’s potential that way,” says one broadcaster.

But Fox had strong incentive to keep Bang out of Tribune’s hands specifically to prevent that pairing, says Bill Carroll, VP/programming, Katz Media Group.

“It has to do with where the greatest demand is,” says Carroll. “If you don’t have Men and you are going after a significant sitcom audience, then you were going to be more aggressive in going after Bang. You have incentive to keep that show away from your competitor.”

And it’s still early going. Tribune has renewed Two and a Half Men through 2021, and by then, the show will have been airing in syndication for 14 years. Big Bang is just getting started.

TBS execs also point out that while it’s only the beginning, they are pleased so far with Big Bang, for which the network paid approximately $1.4 million per episode. TBS aired the show for two weeks, then moved it to accommodate postseason baseball.

“We consider these first few weeks a soft launch,” says Jon Marks, TBS senior VP of entertainment research. “We hadn’t been out there promoting it because we knew that baseball, which we are also glad to have, would be disruptive.”

So far, Big Bang has improved its Tuesday time periods on TBS compared to last year by 23% among adults 18-49 and 63% among adults 25-54. The show has improved its Thursday time periods compared to last year by 3% among adults 18-49 and 31% among adults 25-54. Bang is drawing an average of 1 million viewers in each demographic group in primetime.

Big Bang is a broadly appealing show coming off of CBS. As we get further into the scripted half-hour business, it has the potential to be a very good lead-in, given the nature of its audience base,” says Michael Wright, executive VP of programming for TBS, TNT and TCM.

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