Although ratings for the first three weeks of the new broadcast TV season are mostly down, the networks may not yet be facing make-goods, because viewing patterns for most shows are in line with predictions made by the media buying agencies prior to their upfront buys.
While no buyers would discuss the criteria on which they base their deals with the networks, media-agency research execs who put together share estimates for both new and returning shows say they do so specifically to give their buyers guidance in determining what guarantees to get for each show. "I sure hope they use the research we give them," said Shari Ann Brill, vp, director of programming services for Carat USA. "That's the main reason we do it."
Of the 93 prime-time shows that have premiered so far, media-agency share estimates have been on the mark for 34 and within 1 point for another 42, meaning about 80 percent of shows are performing or close to performing as predicted. Among the other 17 shows, 10 are drawing a greater share than projected. Only seven are drawing shares that are 2 or more points lower than projections.
Among the biggest overdelivering shows are the new CBS dramas Joan of Arcadia and Cold Case, which were both projected to garner 11 shares but which are scoring 15 through their first three airings. A third CBS drama, The Handler, was recording a 14 share through two airings, 2 points above projections.
Although their projected shares were relatively low, three new ABC sitcoms are doing better than expected: Hope & Faith, a 12 share, 5 points above projections; I'm With Her, a 12 share, 3 points above; and Married to the Kellys, a 10 share, 3 points above. I'm With Her is benefiting from being the lead-out show to 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, which recorded a 17 share in its time period for the last three John Ritter episodes.
Among returning shows, NBC's The West Wing is the biggest surprise, doing a 16 share, compared with a projected 13. Other strong performers: ABC's Life With Bonnie, a 10 share, 3 points above projections; ABC's According to Jim, a 12 share, 2 points above; ABC's The Bachelor, a 13 share, 3 points above; and NBC's Will & Grace, an 18 share, 2 points above.
Two new shows underperforming even low projected share estimates, Fox's Luis and CBS' The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H., seem to be candidates for early cancellation. Luis was projected for a 6 share but has managed only a 4; Brotherhood was predicted to do a 10 and has managed only an 8.
Among the returning shows that have exhibited warning signs are NBC's Boomtown, a 9 share, 2 below projections; ABC's L.A. Dragnet, a 6 share, 3 points below; NBC's American Dreams, an 8 share, 2 points below; and Fox's Boston Public, a 5 share, 2 points below.
NBC's Law & Order: SVU and CBS' Judging Amy are both 2 points off predicted shares of 15. ABC's NYPD Blue is off 1 point from a projected 12.
Other shows that may be in trouble: NBC's Coupling and Miss Match, UPN's Jake 2.0 and The Mullets and the WB's Run of the House. "Coupling is not doing nearly as good as many people projected," said Steve Sternberg, vp of audience analysis for Magna Global USA. The show has lost 25 percent of its 18-49 viewers between its first and most recent airing.