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No Glee for This Family of Rookies

One month Into the new television season and this much is clear: broadcast television is treading water with a freshman crop that, while not a total bust, has failed to produce the collective enthusiasm among viewers that greeted last year’s new entries.

For the first four weeks of the season, CBS is leading in the key 18-49 demographic, averaging a 2.9 rating. The network is also in front among total viewers, buoyed by successful returning series and the strongest performances among new shows. NBC is averaging a 2.7 rating while ABC is down to a 2.6, with its season so far resting on aging hit Grey’s Anatomy, Dancing With the Stars and Modern Family. And NBC has the decided benefit of Sunday Night Football, as usual. Fox is in fourth place, with a 2.5 rating. And The CW is averaging a 1.1 rating.

CBS is down slightly year-to-year (1.1%) while NBC is up only slightly (1.5%) over last year’s Jay Lenobedraggled primetime. The CW is flat year-to-year. Even with gains for this fall’s iteration of DWTS, ABC is still down more than 8% year-to-year. And Fox has declined more than 12% due in part to a lackluster NLCS playoff series this season compared to last year’s Yankees/Angels ALCS, and erosion on Fridays and Mondays, where Lone Star was DOA and House could use some strong medicine.

Few of this year’s new series have achieved the critical and commercial success of last year’s breakout hits, namely Fox’s Glee, ABC’s Modern Family and CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles. The only network generating any buzz is CBS, with strong performances for its new series and many returning shows.

Of the top-rated new series in the 18-49 demographic—CBS’ Mike and Molly, Hawaii Five-O and $#*! My Dad Says; NBC’s Outsourced; and Fox’s Raising Hope—none have cracked the top 10. And while the NFL— whether on NBC, Fox or CBS—sits atop the charts, the top-rated new series, CBS’ Mike and Molly, comes in at No. 16.

“None of these new programs are picking up the slack from the continued erosion of existing shows,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media. “You do want to have some new shows that you can build around, and so far this year it hasn’t been the case.”

There have been multiple casualties. The quick cancellation of Fox’s Lone Star is in danger of becoming a referendum on the viability of swing-for-the-fences television, while the shunting of NBC’s Outlaw to the Saturday death zone from the land of low expectations on Friday may only be a refl ection of Jimmy Smits’ inability to overcome abysmal writing. ABC’s mockumentary My Generation, a drama intended to appeal to younger demos weaned on reality television, lasted all of two episodes.

NBC has ordered more scripts of Undercovers, which averaged a dismal 1.5 rating for its last outing on Oct. 20. But the network has given full season orders to Outsourced, The Event, Chase and Law & Order: Los Angeles. Fox has also picked up the back nine of Raising Hope. The CW has picked up both of its freshmen, Hellcats and Nikita, as well as veteran One Tree Hill. ABC has yet to give full-season nods to any of its new series.

Only CBS has managed to build a schedule with legs, launching multiple new series that are winning their time slots (Hawaii Five-O, Blue Bloods, $#*! My Dad Says). And last week the network handed out full-season orders for its entire fall slate, including Wednesday drama The Defenders.

But it’s no secret that broadcasters are facing a mountain of challenges as they work to maintain their dominance among television audiences. And the bar for ratings success has steadily sunk, though advertising rates have not exactly mirrored the downward trajectory. Fox’s American Idol, despite a 9% dip year-to-year and an almost completely new judging panel for the upcoming 10th season in January, is still commanding $467,617 per 30-second spot for Tuesday’s performance show and $400,546 for Wednesday’s results show, according to Advertising Age. Those rates represent an uptick over last season’s Idol, the swan song for Simon Cowell, when 30-second spots on both nights averaged between $360,000 and $490,000.

The fact remains, network television is not gobbling up the share of the audience it once did. And executives have been forced to adjust their expectations.

“These are the realities that we face,” says Mitch Metcalf, executive VP of program planning and scheduling at NBC. “We deal with the world that we’re in now, and we have to be judged not by old numbers and old benchmarks, but by the metrics of today. These are tough circumstances. But the right shows still will fi nd an audience. And it just means that everything has to be executed perfectly.”

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