Summer TV: Gone Fishin’ Again

When it comes to content, more doesn’t always mean better. And although broadcasters may air more original programming this summer than any in recent memory, advertisers remain hard-pressed to pick a breakout hit, let alone a show that could pull in numbers on the level of Survivor or Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

“I haven’t been excited by anything I’ve seen,” said Bob Igiel, president of The Media Edge’s broadcast division. “I’m not suggesting that something can’t come to the fore. But at the moment, nothing I’ve seen will.”

The networks, argue some agencies, may have been distracted with contingency plans in case the Writers Guild strike had not been averted. “Everyone’s focus was on [the strike],” said Laura Caraccioli, Starcom Entertainment’s vp and director. “It’s only now that the networks are starting to think about the summer.”

Most networks have yet to lock in their summer schedules, but several new shows will run: ABC’s sketch-comedy series The Wayne Brady Show; CBS’ revamped Big Brother; Fox’s two reality series, Endgame (July) and Love Cruise (August); and NBC’s two reality series, Fear Factor (June) and Spy TV (July), and its own sketch-comedy show The Downer Channel. UPN airs Manhunt; the WB airs Dead Last.

Clearly, the success of Survivor and Millionaire has raised the bar for summer programming. But network executives have avoided making comparisons between those two shows and this season’s entries. “To set up that type of expectation would be foolhardy,” said Gail Berman, Fox Broadcasting’s entertainment president.

Buyers agree that creating another Survivor is no easy task, but its success proved that viewers were watching TV during the summer, and it reconfirmed advertisers’ belief in a 52-week year.

Still, CBS moved its highly anticipated reality show The Amazing Race from the summer to fall. ABC also held its reality series The Runner for the fall, but that had more to do with the series’ technical complexities. And the networks continue to schedule series held from the previous season, from ABC’s The Beast, to Fox’s Night Visions to NBC’s Kristin. It’s a trend that many advertisers said underscores the fact that broadcasters still view summer more as a dumping ground than as a bona fide launching platform.

To an extent, the networks admit it. “We have to follow audience viewing patterns,” said Mitch Metcalf, NBC senior vp of program planning and scheduling. “The seasonal ebb and flow of viewing levels dictate that summer is never going to be where we pour original episodes of ER, Frasier and Friends.”