ABC, NBC and Fox, in an effort to avoid the soft ratings they get for repeat programming, plan to run several dramas in first-run only next season. But CBS, flush from a big year, will stick with a more traditional game plan.
"When your ratings are down, you want to change the terms of the game," said CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves. "The rules of the game, in our opinion, aren't broken, like the other networks think they are. Our Top 20 crime dramas and comedies all do well in repeats."
CBS was the only network to finish up in households, viewers, adults 18-49 and adults 25-54. It was also the only network that did not decline among adults 18-34 (it was flat). CBS won the season with more than 2 million viewers over NBC, the largest margin of any network in 14 years.
Both CBS and Fox execs are salivating over the possibility of finally overtaking NBC next season in the key adults 18-49 demographic, following the razor-thin finish this season that saw Fox fall just one-tenth of a rating point behind NBC's 4.2 and CBS trail just three-tenths behind with a 3.9.
While Jeff Zucker, president of NBC's Entertainment, News and Cable group, was crowing last week that his network had captured the 18-49 crown for the fourth straight season and the eighth time in the last nine years, Moonves pointed out that CBS had narrowed the gap by half since last season, when CBS was seven-tenths behind in the demo.
Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman proclaimed that her network had come closest to the top of the 18-49 demo in its history.
Zucker argued that while Friends and Frasier will not be on the schedule next season, NBC will stay on top in the 18-49 demo because it is scheduling 32 episodes of The Apprentice, compared with 16 this season.
Moonves has made a few moves aimed at making CBS younger. One of CBS' oldest-skewing shows, Hack, will be replaced with the younger-skewing Amazing Race; The Guardian will be replaced with Clubhouse. CSI: NY, which debuts in the fall, is also expected to attract adults 18-49.
Fox, meanwhile, hopes that premiering four scripted shows this summer will allow it to gain a foothold among young viewers, much like The O.C. did last summer. The network has announced more than a dozen new shows for next season, many targeted at 18-34-year-olds. Fox had no new hits this season other than The O.C., and relied primarily on American Idol to boost its 18-49 ratings.