A week of May sweeps has been burned off and yet the broadcast networks have yet to air a single tent pole event. But while it’s been business as usual at the Big Four, a flurry of high-profile miniseries, limited-run serials and Very Special Episodes are set to air in the coming weeks.
Perhaps the most anticipated scripted-TV event of the spring is Fox’s two-hour premiere of 24: Live Another Day (Monday, May 5). While much has changed since Jack Bauer last saved the world four years ago (the action takes place in London, and the CTU gang has been scattered to the four winds), the reboot bears all the hallmarks of the original. (Breakneck narrative reversals? Check. Split screens, ticking clocks and assassination plots? You bet.)
Arriving nearly two months to the day after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 24 was nothing if not cathartic. While the subterranean fires still blazed between Vesey St. and Liberty St., Kiefer Sutherland’s rump-punting CTU agent was a human placebo of sorts, doing his bit to alleviate the shell shock of that horrible interval with his fictional acts of derring-do, while the real-world Federales bumbled around their war rooms and command centers.
At its second-season peak, 24 averaged 11.7 million viewers and a 5.7 in the adults 18-49 demo, and while Fox would kill to scare up the same numbers with Live Another Day, at the time the deliveries weren’t spectacular. Per Nielsen, 24 finished 19th among all broadcast series in 2002-03, trailing the likes of Wanda at Large and Good Morning, Miami.
As the series progressed and Americans became increasingly fatigued by the war of attrition and all of its ghastly particulars—extraordinary rendition, torture, drone strikes on women and children, the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and Death, Death and more Death—enthusiasm for 24 waned. The show’s final season (Jan.-May 2010) averaged 9.1 million viewers and a 2.8 in the demo.
For all that, Fox is betting that Live Another Day will draw a crowd, as die-hard fans will return for the latest chapter in the Jack Bauer saga, while people who missed out on all the mayhem the first time around will tune in to see what all the fuss is about. TV buyers said the average 30-second spot in the 12-epiosde arc is fetching north of $300,000 a pop, making it one of the priciest scripted buys on the tube.
Chrysler is the presenting sponsor of the limited series, and as such will be the beneficiary of a number of on-screen integrations and other customized content. Longtime 24 backer Sprint has returned for a multi-platform sponsorship.
The first two hours of Live Another Day will go head-to-head with NBC’s The Voice and the NBA Playoffs on TNT.
Fox also hopes for a big ratings bump with “Brick Like Me,” a wildly inventive episode of The Simpsons in which Homer, Marge and everyone else in Springfield are rendered in Lego. Two years in the making, the whimsical installment of TV’s longest-running series airs Sunday, May 4.
Fox isn’t the only network that has a big event up its sleeves. NBC will look to scare up ratings with its two-part revision of the diabolical 1968 Roman Polanski film Rosemary’s Baby. The miniseries stars Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek Into Darkness) in the role made famous by Mia Farrow.
Adapted from the Ira Levin novel, Rosemary’s Baby is set to air on Sunday, May 11 and Thursday, May 15.
ABC’s best bets for sweeps include a number of season finales (Grey’s Anatomy on May 15, followed by Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the 13th and Modern Family on the 21st), as well as the May 19 launch of the latest cycle of The Bachelorette.
The network also has the 2014 Billboard Music Awards on tap for Sunday, May 18. Last year’s gala won the night, averaging 9.48 million viewers and a 3.5 in the dollar demo, up 30 percent versus the 2012 BMAs.
Along with a clutch of high-profile finales—NCIS and Person of Interest on May 13, The Big Bang Theory (May 15), The Good Wife (May 18)—CBS is indulging in an Old School TV trope, scheduling a bunch of crossover episodes between its veteran series. Switcheroos will liven up Big Bang and 2 Broke Girls; Person of Interest and The Mentalist; NCIS and its spinoff NCIS: Los Angeles and Elementary and Blue Bloods.
The importance of sweeps—the four month-long periods during which Nielsen distributes some 2 million paper diaries in the DMAs that fall outside the top 56 TV markets, with an eye toward determining guidance for local ad rates—largely has been diminished by the rise of year-round programming initiatives. Non-traditional viewing and the introduction of local people meters have also eroded the significance of sweeps.
Through 31 weeks, NBC is leading the broadcast pack with a 2.8 rating, up 17 percent versus the year-ago period. Fox is in second (2.5, flat), while CBS is closing in with a 2.4, down 17 percent. ABC is bringing up the rear with a 2.1, down 5 percent.