USA’s scheduling, like its programming, is extraordinarily consistent, making it easy for viewers to know what to expect when they tune in.
Off network dramas comprise the white noise that holds the network together with strips and three-hour primetime blocks. NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU typically fill that role.
Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. Premiere nights for original one-hour dramas lean to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the remainder of the schedule left to off net acquisitions and movies. Originals returned to Sunday nights this June, giving USA five nights of original programming. And Friday nights are being looked at again, according to Chris McCumber. The season for original programming has expanded as well. Once relegated to the non-competitive summer months, USA continuedto successfully expand its roster of originals, with new series and new episodes running nearly all year, leaving just a couple of bridge months left to fill.
NOVEMBER 2011 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / November 2011 vs. November 2010 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
November 2011: USA made some slight audience gains over October this month, but the total primetime audience continues to slip away vs. last year. We saw core adult 25-54 ratings drop 4% vs. November 2010, which is pretty much how it rolls at USA these days. Over the last five months the core year-over- year ratings have moved between +2% and –5%, a long way away from the double- digit increases the net was enjoying just two short years ago.
USA continues to pump out big shares, strong programs and a number one spot among basic cable, but the growth is gone. Is it a “more of the same” issue that has slowed the network down, or is their genre of programming particularly susceptible to timeshifted viewing? Either way, it is time for USA to react.
Network co-heads Marc McCumber and Jeff Wachtel have gone on record saying that no genre is the wrong genre for USA to look at. Reality? Four programs in development. Comedy? MODERN FAMILY hits USA in 2013, and the net is actively looking for original companion programming. Talk shows? In The Hollywood Reporter Marc McCumber said “We've always talked about wanting to have a show or a presence on the network that is day-and-date -- something that's commenting on what's going on and feels vibrant and of the moment, whether that's a late-night show or a daytime show.” They also talk of the importance of serialized fare instead of stand-alone episodes.
Bonnie Hammer, in an interview with The New York Times, revealed another change afoot at USA. It looks like the net might finally be trying to move away from its blue skies formula. “A bit of edge (as opposed to dark skies) may be introduced in shows.”
It looks like some change is already here. The number one HH rated telecast of the month was the “tele-movie,” CERTAIN PREY, a genre USA hasn’t attempted in years. Based on the Prey novels by John Sanford, and starring Marc Harmon, it was the second-best rated tele-movie on cable year-to-date (bested only by Lifetime’s movie about the Craigslist killer). There were over 20 novels in the series, which leaves an open door for USA. Of note, TNT made an upfront announcement back in May that it would begin airing TNT MYSTERY MOVIE NIGHT, orignal tele-pics based on popular crime novels. USA beat TNT to the punch by airing their movie first, and garnering better ratings. Is it me, or does USA always perform best when it is trying to outdo TNT at its own game?
Wrestling is a rock for USA. Its strong male comps, big ratings and format that suits live viewing are all working for the net, and it has taken a bigger lead across the board among all USA programs.
NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU dominated USA’s air again this month, providing over half of the primetime fare. Their household ratings put them near the top of USA’s primetime programming, but their older skewing audience keeps them in check, The median age of USA’s audience grew 5% vs. last year, with NCIS-dominated Wednesdays pulling in the oldest audience of the week,
Christmas must be around the corner, because ELF was all over USA., making six primetime appearances, and underdelivering the network average each time.
And the final component to USA’s November primetime was the trio of original dramas. Each was running at 10PM with acquired crime series as lead-in; , COVERT AFFAIRS on Tuesdays, PSYCH on Wednesdays and BURN NOTICE on Thursdays. PSYCH lost audience from its premiere last month, and both PSYCH and BURN NOTICE lost audience from last year. COVERT AFFAIRS and PSYCH failed to build on their lead-ins. Each program pulls in strong ratings, but USA’s originals seem to fare better when they are scheduled with a companion original, rather than getting an older-skewing lead-in from off net acquisitions. Or perhaps the year-round scheduling isn’t working as well as the net had hoped, particularly when up against broadcast sweeps. Either way, USA has postponed its debut of COMMON LAW from January until the summer, citing a desire for a bigger audience at launch.
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