Tamer 'Sex’ Selling for TBS

Turner Broadcasting System Inc. executives were guardedly enthusiastic about the strong early ratings returns from TBS’s tamer version of Sex and the City, the Home Box Office hit.

After debuting June 15 to a 3.6 and 3.2 household ratings, respectively, for its two installments beginning at 10 p.m., the show’s ratings declined the next night to a 2.6 average for both half-hours, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

Yet despite the second-day ratings drop for the edgy series, TBS is optimistic Sex will continue to drive a significant amount of young female viewers to the network, according to Turner Network Television and TBS executive vice president and general manger Steve Koonin.

Indeed, during the June 16 Sex airings, TBS delivered more 18-to-49-year-old women (1.2 million of those viewers) and women 25-54 (1.1 million) than any other cable network.

That follows a record-breaking performance the night before. The 10 p.m. to 10:36 p.m. episode set a basic-cable record for an off-network series in delivering adults 18 to 49 (2.3 million), women 18 to 49 (1.6 million) and women 25 to 54 (1.5 million). The later installment attracted a cable record 887,000 female watchers between 18 and 34.

“We’re thrilled … the most important thing we’re doing here is learning,” Koonin said. “This is a show that didn’t come through traditional patterns. What we’re trying to figure out is whether we’re talking to new viewers to the Sex and the City franchise and getting curiosity seekers, or are we talking to HBO viewers of the show?”

Koonin said the day-to-day ratings drop-off could be attributed to the fact that the first night’s lead-in movie, Miss Congeniality, was stronger than the second, Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Miss Congeniality was the show’s lead-in again on June 17, Nielsen results for which were not available by press time.

The series’ basic-cable performance is certainly not lost on premium network executives, who are no doubt hoping that audiences will flock to the off-premium series despite the removal of language, nudity and other more graphic scenes that viewers are accustomed to with the Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle. Sources from both companies have said that a successful basic-cable play of Sex could open the syndication doors to other shows like HBO’s The Sopranos or Showtime’s The L Word.

Showtime has already aired limited versions of its original series Soul Food on Black Entertainment Television, and will distribute every episode of the recently cancelled five-year-old skein this fall on the African American-targeted basic service.

“It certainly says that there’s a market for these shows, said one premium network executive. “Two days into the experiment and it looks very good.”

An HBO spokesman said the network presently has “no plans” to syndicate any additional programs. Showtime executives could not be reached to comment.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.