One common theme this fall on Friday night is that the majority of the networks have no idea how to program the evening that's in danger of becoming a wasteland like Saturday night. I'm not saying I'm smarter than those in charge at the likes of FOX and NBC, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that programming certain shows on a Friday night is going to end badly.
Here's how Fridays looks on the big five networks:
ABC (in November)
8:00 Last Man Standing
8:30 Malibu Country
9:00 Shark Tank
10:00 Primetime: What Would You Do?
8:00 CSI: NY
9:00 Made in Jersey
10:00 Blue Bloods
9:00 Fringe (Hell's Kitchen returns in midseason)
10:00 Dateline NBC
8:00 America's Next Top Model
A common theme is throwing several shows on the night that they didn't want to cancel, but had no idea where else to put them. So why not Friday nights? NBC sticking Whitney and Community in the 8pm hour has to be one of the most mind-boggling decisions in a long time. Whitney pulled respectable-for-NBC numbers on Wednesday nights. It doesn't have a loyal fanbase. Those who watch and like it might re-discover it next year? Probably not though. It's a common sentiment among Whitney viewers (there are some, don't believe the negative hype) that it's a decent show, but no one is searching for it on a Friday night.
And what about Community? I'm finding it difficult to understand why NBC renewed a show they care so little about. First, they've dumped the show all over the place. Second, the ratings aren't that good. Even for NBC. Now the kicker was firing series creator and showrunner Dan Harmon earlier this week. It seems counter-productive to renew a show you have no intention on keeping around. The most common explanation is "Well, they want to sell it to syndication". Really? I just don't see Community doing that well in syndication. To me, shows with big ratings or perhaps lesser-known cable shows (like Monk) benefit most from syndication, while low-rated network shows typically pull low ratings in syndication too. But that's just me. I don't claim to understand the inner workings of the television machine that well, but I have a general idea.
FOX renewed Fringe for one final, 13 episode season, which is great for its fans. I can't really say much more here that I didn't say about Community. Touch, on the other hand, is a mystery. Ratings plummeted upon its return in March and never looked back. Placing a low-rated drama on Friday nights, leading into another low-rated drama seems like an idea from someone who just doesn't want to deal with a low-rated night. One of my solutions for this increasing wasteland of a night is coming up and it might be hard to hear, but it beats watching numbers drop every single season.
Not all is lost. CBS seems to understand something that other networks ignore: old people watch TV too. Is a 1.5 in the 18-49 demo good? Of course not. But I honestly believe it's better if the show in question is pulling over 10 million viewers. Call me crazy, but that's still a success. Yes, the younger viewers are the targets. But they're not watching TV on Fridays. So why continue to hunt for that elusive viewer that has no interest staying home on a social night? Program for that older generation. It may not get you the money you want to make, but it beats seeing 2 million viewers tune in to an expensive sci-fi series.
Meanwhile, ABC isn't throwing random sitcoms on the night. No, they have two sitcoms waiting that we know won't be pulling in big numbers with the young viewers. When you think young, Tim Allen and Reba McIntyre don't usually come high on the list. Which is why it's smart to program two traditional sitcoms on Friday night. Once upon a time, Fridays was the place to go for sitcoms. Saturdays too. So why not give it another shot? Shark Tank and Primetime are typical Friday staples, so no complaints there. I'm not a huge fan of filling Friday TV time with newsmagazines like Primetime or Dateline, but if it works, go for it.
So that covers one aspect of fixing Fridays: the older demos. But what else can possibly mend a broken night of TV? Two words:
I know networks hate to waste good programming on a bad night, but the night is sinking like a stone. At this rate, in five years, it will be a repeat-laden wasteland that has become Saturday night. Which is why you need to take a risk for a big reward. FOX programmed Bones on Friday nights so many times, I can't possibly keep count. But they never followed through. Why not? Bones was actually a one-two punch: it was an established show with good ratings that appealed to older demographics.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Harry's Law should have not only been renewed but shipped off to Friday nights to capitalize on that older demographic as well. Whitney and Community will be gone by November, while Grimm is barely holding on. The only established drama that could have thrived was Harry's Law. Of course the 18-49 demo is abysmal, but viewership was decent.
Alas, I don't have all the answers. You can't give up certain hits just to fix one night. But throwing random programming at the wall and hoping it sticks isn't working either. No matter how hard they try, NBC won't make a 7-8 million hit out of Whitney or Community like this. And like it or not, the old folks aren't all gone yet. And they do watch TV. If you're not making money as it is on a night like Friday, why not make the most of it with programming for them?
What about fixing Saturdays? Umm, well... I got nothin'.
Until next time, stay tuned.