The growing number of both broadcast and cable programs debuting after the May sweeps is bringing eyeballs back to TV sets in the usually slow summer. Here’s TVNewsCheck’s list of what’s in store.
The summer ratings battle, when broadcast networks unleash a barrage of reality series against a growing cadre of cable’s best drama franchises, has begun. Although a pale shadow of what goes on in TV’s regular season, summer’s growing competitiveness has produced a not-so-ancillary benefit: expanding audiences.
“TV usage is up in the summer,” confirmed Bruce Goerlich, executive vice president and strategic resources director at Zenith Optimedia. The average level of homes using television (HUT) was 55.9 last summer, up from 54.9 in the summer of 2003, Goerlich said. If specials are included, HUTs are also up in the key adult 18-49 demographic, with last summer’s average hitting 31.6, compared to 30.7 in 2003.
These aren’t huge gains, but they continue a long-term trend away from the traditional summer audience slump that has distorted TV’s ratings story since the early 1950s, said Tim Brooks, executive vice president of research at Lifetime Television and author of The Complete Directory of Primetime TV and Cable Shows. “The relationship between summer and winter ratings has changed dramatically over time,” Brooks said. “There used to be a deep decline during summer. It looked like a bowl, but each year, the decline has gotten less and less. There’s still a dip, but ratings go down by only about 8% to 10%. They used to go down by 30% to 40%.”
Cable has fared better than broadcast TV in capturing summer viewers, Goerlich said. The combined six-network primetime audience share averaged 48% in 2003 and 2004, but dropped to 42% last summer, he said, while cable’s combined average share during the period rose from 55 to 60.
“Cable has been doing a better job of counter-programming in the summer,” he said, adding that cable has had also an advantage in June, July and August produced by years of summer broadcast TV reruns. “People know there are reruns [on broadcast] in the summer, so they catch up on things they haven’t seen on cable,” Goerlich said.
In the past few years, the broadcasters have fought back. Last summer, they aired 20 original series, all of them reality-based, according to Brooks’ count. Cable aired 50. While hits like TNT’s The Closer, USA Network’s Monk and FX’s Nip/Tuck have increased cable’s competitiveness in the summer, the ratings gains have come from the sheer numbers of cable originals hitting the air, Brooks said. “Cable’s strength isn’t so much that it has breakout hits, but that there are so many networks, and so many are launching new shows that it all adds up.”
This summer, the broadcast networks will air at least 15 original series, including a big-budget reality competition, Treasure Hunters, a new talent search produced by American Idol judge Simon Cowell and the return of ABC’s hit, Dancing With the Stars. Cable will air many more, with the most visible likely to be some new drama series launched by TNT, USA Network and ABC Family, all of which are trying to build on successful summer drama franchises.
Although much of the network original fare is low-budget reality, its amount represents a big change. “It’s very different than it was even three years back,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, executive vice president and director of Starcom Entertainment. The shift is most apparent at CBS, where executives used to maintain that summer reruns helped build series up by introducing new viewers who missed the shows the first time around, Caracioli-Davis said. Now, CBS has series, like Big Brother and Rock Star, that only live in the summer, she said.
Brooks adds that another shift came when cable networks, emboldened by their success in summer, have moved their premieres into June, in order to take advantage of a full three months of less competition from the broadcasters. “A lot of cable networks have organized their whole schedule around launches at the beginning of the summer,” he said. “It used to be you’d stay away from summer because viewing levels were lower.”
Caraccioli-Davis expects this summer’s most interesting trend to surface in the way networks use new technology to keep viewers involved with shows on hiatus. “I’m wondering how networks will use iTunes and Web sites to keep people interested in the content during the summer,” she said. “This summer will be different than any other because technology will play a role.”
Below is a rundown of summer originals, listed in order of their premiere dates.
Vacationers clash with the townies in a sleepy New England village.
8 p.m. Sundays on ABC.
Game Show Marathon
Celebrities compete against one another in a variety of classic game show formats until all are eliminated but the winner. Show airs twice weekly in special time slots then settles in at 8 p.m. Thursdays on CBS.
Last Comic Standing
Stand-up comedians compete and viewers vote on the winner.
Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
So You Think You Can Dance
Fox’s attempt to cash in on the success of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars returns for a second season with Cat Deeley as host. 9 p.m. Thursdays.
Behind the scenes with soccer stars’ spouses.
10 p.m. Sundays on BBC America.
Expert fixes problems at RV parks.
10 p.m. Fridays on DIY.
The Simple Life
Paris and Nicole stand in for wives and mothers in a variety of households.
10 p.m. Sundays on E!
7 Deadly Hollywood Sins
Celebrities’s lifestyles portrayed with a sense of humor.
10 p.m. Mondays on E!
A trio of experts finds dream cars for special customers.
10:30 p.m. Mondays on MTV.
A supposedly elite dating service run by dysfunctional people tries to find partners for its clients.
11 p.m. Mondays on Lifetime.
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
Fame and celebrity continue to elude a comedienne whose trademark is poking fun at celebrities.
9 p.m. Tuesdays on Bravo.
Drew Carey’s Sporting Adventures
The comedian follows the 2006 World Cup through Europe.
9 p.m. Thursdays on Travel Channel.
This scripted drama, which follows what happens to a group of people who win big in the lottery, has been in the can for nearly a year, so ad agency handicappers don’t have high hopes for it.
10 p.m. Thursdays on NBC.
A family of meerkats survives in the Kalahari Desert.
8 p.m. Fridays on Animal Planet.
Cutthroat competition, tangled relationships and only the tenuous beginnings of a system of law flavor this highly intelligent, profane Western.
9 p.m. Sundays on HBO.
A two-hour premiere picks up the stories of people abducted into space and then returned to earth.
9 p.m. Sundays on USA Network.
Control-freak brides pull out all the stops for their big day.
10 p.m. Sundays on WE.
Taped in front of an audience, this half-hour series, which promises to end the sitcom as we know it, revives the spirit of Archie Bunker in the no-holds-barred environment of pay TV.
10:30 p.m. Sundays on HBO.
Kyra Sedgwick returns as the junk-food eating detective who always breaks down her interrogation subject.
9 p.m. Mondays on TNT.
Gordon Ramsay returns to terrorize another group of wannabe chefs and restaurateurs.
9 p.m. Mondays on Fox.
How to Get the Guy
Four women search for a mate with the help of love coaches Teresa Strasser and J.D. Roberto. From the creators of Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.
10 p.m. Mondays on ABC.
A gambling addict, plagued by the expectations of his dad, drops out of medical school to become a paramedic.
10 p.m. Mondays on TNT.
Tuesday Night Book Club
Middle class suburban women gather to discuss books but spend most of their time dishing about home, husband, kids and more.
10 p.m. on CBS.
Making the Band 3
Sean “P. Diddy” Combs comes up with a new girl band.
9 p.m. Thursdays on MTV.
The Reverend “Run” Simmons entertains the likes of Bow Wow, John Singleton and Michael Jordan.
9:30 p.m. Thursdays on MTV.
Pimp My Ride
Rapper Xzibit oversees another season of customizing dream cars.
10 p.m. Thursdays on MTV.
The Dead Zone
Reluctant psychic Johnny Smith tries to avert disasters, solve crimes and otherwise come to terms with events around him.
10 p.m. Sundays on USA Network.
Described as a cross between The Amazing Race and The DaVinci Code, this reality hour challenges participants to decipher complex codes and puzzles while running a gauntlet of physical challenges. Viewers vote for winners on their cell phones.
The two-hour premiere is at 8 p.m.; its regular slot is 9 p.m. Sundays on NBC.
Experts search out the facts, myths and conundrums of historical mysteries.
9 p.m. Mondays on PBS.
America’s Got Talent
Singers, dancers, magicians and comedians compete to be the favorite on this Regis Philbin-hosted hour produced by American Idol bad-boy judge Simon Cowell. 9 p.m. Wednesdays following an 8 p.m. premiere on NBC.
House of Boateng
British fashion designer Ozwald Boateng tackles the U.S.
9 p.m. Thursdays on Sundance Channel.
Master of Champions
Contestants vie to be best in extreme categories like interpretive pizza tossing and unicycle obstacle course completion.
8 p.m. Thursdays on ABC.
A man is found in the forest with no navel and no language skills, but soon displays savant-like capabilities.
8 p.m. Mondays on ABC Family.
Kirk Sticky Jones reprises the lead role in this serialized version of the vampire movie franchise.
10 p.m. Wednesdays on Spike TV.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Danny DeVito joins the cast of this wacky sitcom about a group of friends who run a bar in the City of Brotherly Love.
10 p.m. Thursdays on FX.
Season two of this caper drama imported from the U.K. is set in the U.S.
Saturdays at 10 p.m.on AMC.
Rock Star: Supernova
The band auditions for a new lead singer.
9 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 p.m. Wednesdays on CBS.
Viewers choose which former house guests get to compete this time around.
8 p.m. Thursdays on CBS.
Raising the Roofs
An actor’s rural family comes calling at his stylish Los Angeles home.
10 p.m. Thursdays on Spike TV.
Wacky Finnish guys pull stunts in the Arctic Circle.
10:30 p.m. Thursdays on Spike TV.
Tony Shalhoub returns as the obsessive-compulsive crime solver.
9 p.m. Fridays on USA Network.
James Roday stars as a man who avoids jail time by posing as a psychic and using his extraordinary powers of observation to help the police solve crimes.
10 p.m. Fridays on USA Network.
Chappelle’s Show: The Lost Episodes
The last three installments, stitched together from Dave Chappelle’s material.
9 p.m. Sundays on Comedy Central.
One brother is a political kingpin who is losing his moral compass; the other heads the organized crime family in this drama set in Providence, R.I.
10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime.
Caught in the Moment
A wildlife filmmaker and a naturalist capture amazing moments in nature.
9 p.m. Mondays on Animal Planet.
Jamie and Bobbie Deen, sons of celebrity chef Paula Deen, cruise the country and sample local specialties.
10 p.m. Tuesdays on Food Network.
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King collaborated on this collection of eight one-hour films based on his short stories. William H. Macy, Tom Beringer and William Hurt are among stars headlining episodes, which will air in pairs.
9 p.m. Wednesdays on TNT.
Aspiring designers compete to be the best.
10 p.m. Wednesdays on Bravo.
Throwdown With Bobby Flay
Celebrity chef competes with local heroes to create the best dishes.
10 p.m. Thursdays on Food Network.
The team behind the Academy Award-winning movie Crash produces this drama about an FBI agent who can tell when someone is lying, and uses her gift to try and right the wrongs of her parents, who were convicted of spying against the U.S.
10 p.m. Sundays on Lifetime.
A U.S. Marshal is stranded in a backwater town originally set up by Albert Einstein and President Harry Truman after World War II as a haven for top minds and their top-secret projects.
9 p.m. Tuesdays on Sci Fi.
The One: Making a Music Star
Aspiring stars attend singing academy and compete to chosen as the audience’s favorite in this series adapted from an international hit. The winner gets a recording contract.
9 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC.
Cameras follow a Beverly Hills fitness trainer as she whips celebrities into shape.
10 p.m. Tuesdays on Bravo.
One Ocean View
Young single Manhattanites share a luxurious beach house on Long Island. From producers of MTV’s The Real World.
10 p.m. Mondays on ABC.
Secret Lives of Women
Documentary series about women’s issues.
10 p.m. Tuesdays on WE.
Experts help hopefuls at self-improvement.
8 p.m. Thursdays on ABC.
A British animated series set in a nocturnal world.
9 p.m. Saturdays on Sundance Channel.
Not Yet Scheduled
Mary-Louise Parker deals pot to get by as a suburban single mom.