Sunday, November 27, 2005

Should Idol move?

There was an article the other day in the New York Times which said that Simon Cowell might not be on American Idol this season. The article wasn't clear on exactly why--since it did say that he has a signed contract for this season, but said that this court case in Great Britain against the co-founder of Idol, Simon Fuller, could have some impact. It did say that unlike past years, there is not yet a contract for this year's Idol winner to record with Simon Cowell's company, and Simon had no intention of creating a star for another record company, but I have a feeling that can be worked out. Of course, the biggest reason I'd ignore this story is because the audition rounds for this year's Idol have already taken place--in fact, they finished weeks ago--so Simon has already been appearing on this season's American Idol.

What was interesting about the NY Times article was that it floated a rumor about a change in Idol's scheduling, a rumor which has been bandied about now for a few weeks and was repeated in the Washington Post on Thursday. The rumor is that Fox would move Idol from its traditional Tuesday-Wednesday airing to a Wednesday-Thursday airing, so that Fox could become a player on Thursday. First, a little background.

Every television network wants strong ratings on Thursday because, among other reasons, it is the night before new movies open. Thus, movie studios will pay lots of money to buy commercials on Thursday night, and it becomes the most lucrative night of the week. Ever since CBS directly challenged NBC--the Thursday night leader since the days of Cosby, Cheers and L.A. Law--a few years back by putting "Survivor" and "CSI" on that night and basically matching NBC's ratings, every other network has wanted to establish its own beachhead on that night, and when "Friends" departed, "Joey" arrived, "The Apprentice" was overused, and "ER" lost every one of its original cast members, NBC basically collapsed. Fox hoped its move of "The O.C." to Thursday would give it some traction on Thursday, and while it certainly has done much better than anything Fox has shown in that slot since probably the first year of "Beverly Hills 90210" 15 years ago, it really hasn't made that significant a mark ratings-wise (and the creative slump of that show since year one didn't help either.)

So should Fox make this move? Personally, I like routine, and I'm used to Idol on Tuesday. Then again, I work late on Tuesday, and it would be a lot easier for me--particuarly to write my updates--if I could occasionally watch the show live on Wednesday, instead of on tape when I get home from work and I'm tired, etc. But from Fox's standpoint, this move does make some sense.

Idol gets monster ratings on Tuesday nights, crushing everything else that's in its path, sometimes beating the top three networks' ratings combined. And it really doesn't face particularly tough competition on that night--in January, it will face Fear Factor (a show well past its prime, ratings-wise), According to Jim/Rodney on ABC (don't think these shows ever had a prime), NCIS (actually, performs fairly well in the ratings, but a show that attracts a different, older audience and didn't affect Idol's ratings last year), Gilmore Girls (a show with a devoted, but small audience), and some sitcoms on UPN whose names I can't remember.

But the competition Idol would face on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. might be even weaker. On NBC, it's E-Ring, which hasn't done particuarly well in the ratings since it premiered and draws an older audience (i.e., less threatening than Fear Factor). Then there's the George Lopez Show and Freddie on ABC, which are doing a little better than expected, but are by no means huge ratings-getters and will probably lose some of their viewers to Idol (and is a little more of a ratings threat than According to Jim/Rodney, but I wouldn't want to live on the difference.) On CBS, we have Still Standing and Yes, Dear, which aren't ratings grabbers and are much easier competition than NCIS. As for the "netlets," as they're called, UPN's America's Next Top Model gets ratings in the range of WB's Gilmore Girls the previous night, while the WB's One Tree Hill gets ratings around the level of those UPN sitcoms on Tuesday (maybe a little better), so that's basically a wash.

So moving the Tuesday show to Wednesday makes sense. How about the Wednesday show to Thursday? Well, if the Wednesday show once again airs at 9 p.m., it will now have to face the ratings giant Lost, as well as the surprising "Criminal Minds" on CBS. The Mandy Patinkin show (in which he apparently doesn't sing) gets only about half of the ratings of Lost in the critical 18-49 ratings cohort, but that still means it's getting a solid 5 or so rating in that demographic, and a top 20 rating for all ages. This is significantly tougher competition than Idol faced in this slot last year, when Lost was on at 8 p.m. and Alias, despite what its supporters say, never really did all that well in the ratings. (And personally, if Idol comes on at 9 on Wednesday, I have three shows--that, Lost and Veronica Mars--to watch and I only have two televisions and two VCRs. So I have no idea what I'm going to do, but that's my problem.)

Anyway, Idol on Thursday at 9 would face similar competition--CSI gets similar ratings to Lost, and The Apprentice gets similar ratings to Criminal Minds (Apprentice may do a little better in 18-49, but not as well overall). But it would probably do just as well on Thursday against that competition as it would on Wednesday with the competition it faces this year, and with the benefit of Fox establishing a presence on Thursday, I think the move actually makes sense. And if NBC makes its rumored move of going to four sitcoms on Thursday night, it would make even more sense. My analysis of that move is coming soon.


Anonymous John said...

You know, it's the end of November, traditionally the season of thanks, and lucky me, I had three fingerposts waiting! Yipee!

11/28/05, 2:45 PM  

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