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For Monday Night,Change Is the Only Constant

Monday Night is traditionally a mighty tough programming challenge for the
broadcast networks each season, as they face heavy competition from ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which averages
more than 13 million viewers per week.

Given all the pressure, it’s no surprise that
there’s been a real jockeying for position
among the Big Four broadcasters. NBC,
which pulled a worst-to-first turnaround on
Mondays over the last couple of years, has
a different challenger in its rearview: Fox,
which has passed CBS in the important
18-49 demo race. CBS’ once-bulletproof lineup is now
surprisingly vulnerable, and ABC remains fourth.

Fox’s Monday success this fall can be tied to the
boost it’s getting from rookie drama Sleepy Hollow,
which is performing much better than last year’s flatlined
The Mob Doctor. Mob Doctor averaged just
above a 1.0 in the 18-49 demo and roughly 4 million
total viewers last fall, compared to Sleepy Hollow’s 2.9
rating with a little more than 8 million total viewers.

Sleepy Hollow represents another triumph for Fox
with limited-order drama series, following last season’s
midseason entrant The Following, which itself
averaged a 2.9 demo rating and 7.9 million total
viewers in the same Monday time slot.

On Nov. 18, Fox will premiere the new J.J. Abrams
drama, Almost Human, about futuristic cops who
partner with lifelike robots, in place of Bones, which
has drawn a solid 2.1 demo rating at 8 p.m. Almost
’s Monday time slot debut follows its season
premiere on Nov. 17.

“I think that is a show that could work really well
with Sleepy Hollow,” Brad Adgate, Horizon Media
research director, says of Almost Human.

While tapping into shorter, serialized fare has
worked for Fox, CBS has seen mixed results
on Mondays thus far. The network
had success with its summer run of Under
the Dome
, which averaged a 2.7 rating and
10.4 million total viewers on Mondays.
The show, which has a unique windowing
agreement with Amazon, was renewed for
next summer. On the other hand, CBS’ fall
serialized drama Hostages, which ends its
15-episode season in early January, has not been the
same draw, averaging a 1.3 rating—less than half the
demo rating of the summer series—and almost 5.4
million total viewers at 10 p.m. Hostages does, however,
gain almost a full ratings point and 2.85 million
total viewers after seven days of DVR playback, according
to the latest data from Nielsen.

When Hostages finishes in January, CBS will replace
it with Intelligence, another short-order serialized drama
that should perform better since it won’t have to
play against football or, at the start, NBC’s The Voice
which will be on hiatus then. CBS last week moved
up the cyber drama’s premiere by seven weeks. Intelligence
will now debut out of NCIS on Jan. 7 before
moving to its regular time slot the following week. As
a result, “There’s going be a little bit more of a viewing
pie that [Intelligence] can tap into,” Adgate says.

However, Hostages and its lackluster ratings aren’t
the only cause of CBS’ fall to third on Mondays—a
night it won consistently just a few years ago. Over
the last few years, CBS has shifted some of that night’s
best performers, moving The Big Bang Theory and
Two and Half Men to Thursday, which has strengthened
that night while leaving Mondays vulnerable.

The network has already shuffled its lineup by canceling
We Are Men after two low-rated episodes and
moving 2 Broke Girls into the 8:30 p.m. slot, handing
veteran Mike & Molly the anchor slot at 9 p.m. That
was done in the hope that 2 Broke Girls and Mike &
would better hold the strong lead from How I
Met Your Mother
and pump ratings life into freshman
comedy Mom and the aforementioned Hostages. So
far, that hasn’t happened.

NBC’s Voice of Reason

NBC’s Monday fortunes improved with the April
2011 premiere of The Voice. The singing competition
series has not only performed exceptionally well, but
it has also provided the network with something it had
been sorely lacking: A launch pad for new shows.

This fall’s The Blacklist became the third consecutive
drama to draw solid numbers leading out of The
Voice, following Revolution and Smash. It remains
to be seen how well Blacklist might eventually perform
flying solo.

“The issue is that once these shows lose The Voice
as a lead-in, they have had difficulty standing on their
own,” says Adgate, who argued that unlike the previous
two dramas, Blacklist has better staying power.

Blacklist’s success translates to delayed viewing
as well, with the James Spader vehicle pulling in record
live-plus-three-days numbers. The Nov. 4 episode
gained more than 5 million total viewers—TV’s
biggest-ever increase in delayed numbers—and almost
two full ratings points with adults 18-49.

Meanwhile, as the other networks have tinkered
with their Monday lineups, ABC has largely remained
the same, occupied by Dancing With the Stars and Castle;
among the Big Four networks, ABC has shown the
least change in its Monday ratings from last year.

The CW has also been largely steady on Mondays
from last fall, despite featuring a completely new lineup
with Hart of Dixie and Beauty and the Beast.