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Lineup dancing

After months of stagnant ratings, VH1 is retooling its prime time format into music-related theme nights. The Viacom-owned music network is hoping the new late-night blocks, billed "My VH1 Primetime,"
will guide viewers to its best shows and create new viewing habits.

VH1's prime time ratings have hovered around 0.4 or 0.5 since 1999. The music channel harvested a 0.5 rating for first quarter 2001, identical to its first quarter ratings in 1999 and 2000. In May, VH1's prime time rating was 0.4, after posting a 0.4 in May 2000 and a 0.5 in May 1999. The network's highest monthly rating in 2000 was a 0.5 in January.

The new strategy should produce ratings growth, said Fred Graver, VH1's executive vice president of programming.

"This is not a strategy we're going to abandon if we don't see a big jump in ratings," Graver said. "We need to make VH1 a resource for music lovers, and we need to have a system to tell viewers what's on the air consistently."

Summer is a good time to introduce this kind of new programming format, because viewers don't have many other favorites, said TN Media's Stacy Lynn Koerner.

"Viewers aren't locked into shows on networks," she said. "In the winter, it's more difficult to get face time with viewers and get them to commit." It may take time to see if this helps VH1 boost ratings, she added, because ratings may initially increase from promotions and increase in summer viewing across cable networks.

Other networks, such as USA and Lifetime, also are experimenting with theme nights in their summer schedules. VH1 is pursuing its new format because viewers have expressed confusion over where and when to find shows, Graver explained.

VH1 is planning heavy promotion for the new format, which begins June 18. The four theme nights: "My Mondays," which lets viewers vote online the week before to determine a video show; "Movies That Rock on Wednesdays," showcasing music-based movies, including original offerings such asHysteria: The Def Leppard Story; "Front-Row Fridays," with concerts and new episodes of Storytellers;
"My VH1 Primetime
featuring new episodes of Behind the Music;
and series, including Cover Wars, a cover-band music competition hosted by Late Night With David Letterman's Paul Shaffer.

VH1 has yet to brand Tuesday and Thursday nights; for now, reruns of Behind the Music, Bands on the Run
and VH1 All-Access will air. "The audience can only absorb so much at a time," Graver said. But he remains confident. "Aside from labeling every week "Shark Week," this is a great idea."