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Nets Working for the Weekend as Friday Prime Regains Favor

It wasn't so long ago that Friday, like Saturday, was essentially abandoned by broadcast networks due to dwindling viewership on the night, with the schedule relegated to repeats and cheaper news programming.

But as the competition from cable and the DVR on every night has grown fiercer, several seasons of more aggressively programming Fridays has allowed for some relative hits—ABC’s Shark Tank, CBS’ Blue Bloods and NBC’s Grimm. Yet the night has also seen its share of failures, such as this season’s quickly canceled CBS series Made in Jersey and The Job.

“The threshold for success on any given night is a little bit lower. Therefore, Friday night, which had been given up for dead when there was a greater threshold for success, is now back within sight,” says one network executive who requested anonymity.

On March 8, three network series will debut or return to Fridays—rookie CBS cop drama Golden Boy; the second season of NBC retail competition series Fashion Star; and the return of cult favorite Grimm to the schedule after a four-month hiatus.

Though Made in Jersey and The Job both lasted only two episodes, CBS is at least giving Golden Boy the benefit of two Tuesday previews on Feb. 26 and March 5 (the first of which drew a solid-enough 1.8 rating among adults 18-49 and 10.5 million viewers) before the show’s official Friday premiere. And despite The Job’s early termination, the producers of Fashion Star— which relocated from Tuesdays—see the night as fertile for a returning show.

“We’re excited about the time slot. We actually think Friday has proven to be a strong night for reality,” says Laura Caraccioli, executive VP of advertising at Electus, the studio behind Fashion Star, pointing to shows such as Shark Tank and Undercover Boss. And with Fashion Star being highly integrated with retail, Caraccioli also notes the Friday perch gets viewers right before their weekend shopping.

Friday also offers a lower bar for success (Fashion Star was originally scheduled for Sunday nights, where it would have gone up against tough scripted competition on cable). That also makes the night an ideal testing ground for new types of programming.

“I think Friday has the ability for us to experiment a little bit with and make us keep thinking about how to be better,” says Andy Kubitz, executive VP of program planning and scheduling at ABC.

Such experimentation established Shark Tank on Friday. A show that might not have survived on a more competitive night, it now ranks as a top-10 series among viewers making upward of $100,000 a year, an upscale audience thought not to be watching TV on Friday nights.

Similarly Grimm, thought to be a long shot with its fairy-tale procedural premise when it debuted in 2011, put up a strong premiere against the World Series and does solid business for NBC at a time when the network is desperate for traction.

ABC has also taken steps to bring family comedy back to Friday, akin to its T.G.I.F. days. While Last Man Standing is down about 36% among adults 18-49 compared to its Tuesday run last season, it’s doing well enough to help launch a second entry, MalibuCountry. Kubitz says he would like to build on that block next fall if ABC’s development allows. “I wouldn’t even be opposed to using that night to grow other nights of the week for that type of comedy programming as well,” he adds.

For other series however, Fridays can be a last option after underperformance on other, more lucrative nights on the schedule. NBC’s Brian Williams summed up what Fridays can often be when the newsman welcomed viewers—with his signature dry wit—to “our latest resting place” during Rock Center’s first Friday broadcast on Feb. 8, the show’s fifth time slot in 16 months.

Indeed, a move to Fridays often translates to mean you’re a step closer to cancellation. Fox’s Kiefer Sutherland drama, Touch, which averaged a 2.2 18-49 rating on Thursdays last season after American Idol, isn’t cutting it on Fridays this year at a 0.8.

The CW’s freshman drama Cult also got the downgrade last week after averaging a paltry 0.2 rating with its target adults 18-34 demo.

ABC’s struggling comedy Happy Endings is awaiting a similar fate. Having launched on Wednesdays after Modern Family, the show moved to Tuesdays and even had a failed double-run on Sundays before being pulled; it returns to Fridays on March 29.

But Friday doesn’t always have to mean the end. Fox’s Fringe moved to Fridays midway through its third season and survived on the night through season five.

“It’s just like any other night,” says the network executive. “If you put on a good show that really serves your brand, you’re going to find some audience.”

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