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TNT Analysis - December 2009


* Bold denotes programming change


Monday through Wednesday is TNT's primary focus, where the network has vowed to run original series throughout the year. NBA usually runs on Thursdays, when it's the season, otherwise it's an off-net crime drama and a movie. Blockbuster theatricals dominate Friday through Sunday.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2009 vs. December 2008  (% Change)

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

TNT tried to close the year strong, with a new original series (MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE), new episodes of THE CLOSER, NBA on TNT and classic holiday movies all on board to give the ratings a boost. While some things worked, others did not, and in the end the network wound up just slightly below December 2008 levels.

In fact, that is essentially TNT's story of 2009. Despite best efforts and a boatload of new programming to help turn the tide, 2009 wound up in pretty much the same place as 2008. Maintaining audience is not to be easily dismissed in this competitive and ever-changing landscape, but bottom-line, TNT could not produce the kind of increases enjoyed by competitors USA and FX.

According to year-end numbers released by TNT, in 2009 it drew 2.26 million primetime viewers, up 2% versus the prior-year average. The net put together its best demo numbers with the 25-54 set, averaging a third-best 1.1 million viewers, up 2% versus 2008. Per Nielsen, TNT took fourth place among 18-49s, growing 1% to 1.03 million viewers, while gaining 3% among the 18-34 set (451,000). Like we said, not much forward momentum, but no ground lost either.

But back to December. Mondays are still the star of the week, with new episodes of THE CLOSER drawing audiences back in, basically doubling last month's numbers. As we have seen many times before (RAISING THE BAR, SAVING GRACE), THE CLOSER helped launch a new series at 10PM -- MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE. This looks to be TNT's best launch all year. Out of the box, MEN drew large audiences, particularly among women of a certain age (25-54). It also escaped the older demos of THE CLOSER, so while THE CLOSER won on household ratings, MEN was able to draw more men and women. But the million-dollar question remains, "Has TNT developed a program that can stand on its own without THE CLOSER??" Audiences dropped in the third week as the holidays drew near, but TNT was not deterred, and renewed MEN for a second, ten-episode season.  An interesting note - MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE does not fit the usual TNT-mold. It is dialogue, not action driven, and it is not a medical, legal or police drama.

BONES continues as the new filler-program of choice. Scheduled as a Monday - Wednesday 8PM strip, it earned 25%+ better ratings than last month.

FORENSIC FILES, another out-of-the-mold program for TNT, had a quiet and brief run on Wednesdays in December. The program lost audience from its lead-in BONES, but consistently built audience from its 9 to 9:30 run. It does not appear on the future schedule right now.

NBA on TNT had a great run last year, gaining significant male audiences and even better increases among women. However, the gains were reversed this year, and we see across the board 30% drops in year-over-year NBA audiences.

Friday through Sunday continue to be all about the movies. Leaders this month were War of the Worlds, The Librarian and A Christmas Carol. Movies continue to lose their impact on TNT. Among adults they are down by over 10% vs. last month, and down by more than 30% vs. last year.

TNT's philosophy has consistently been "more of what works." But as the old formulas lose their potency, it is time for either a new philosophy or a new formula. MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE and FORENSIC FILES are two efforts that go against the grain. Look for more programming outside TNT's comfort zone in the future.


TNT is a cross between a broadcast network, a pay movie service and a premiere NBA channel.

But the  net wants to do it on its own, or else get the help of some big names - Redford, Bocchco, Bruckheimer - you get the idea. With the acclaim garnered from GRACE and THE CLOSER, they have cachet among Hollywood's top talent, making TNT tough territory for anything but studio projects. 

TNT wants to be thought of as a broadcast network, as illustrated by their upfront presentation showmanship. "Cable has taken the measure of broadcast TV in sports, news and theatrical movies, and now we're ready to knock down the last bastion of broadcast dominance: weekly TV series," said Steve Koonin, president of the Turner Entertainment Networks. (Hollywood Reporter)

TNT has announced another lengthy development slate that is heavy on big name Hollywood talent and crime dramas. In January, TNT officially ordered three more original dramas, bringing the original series count to ten in total. (DELTA BLUES (wt), an alien invasion project and RIZZOLI & ISLES are the new projects.) "With these new projects, TNT continues to focus on great storytellers," said Michael Wright, executive vice president, head of programming "The central characters come from different worlds of crime, law and medicine but they share essential, everyman qualities. They're all everyday heroes on a personal journey the viewer can relate to and care deeply about."

So far this broadcast season, we have seen acquired crime dramas become a big part of TNT's strategy, with BONES, NUMB3RS, CSI: NY, SOUTHLAND, THE MENTALIST and FORENSIC FILES all slated for TNT primetime.