TV Network Time Slots Where Nothing Seems to Go Right

The haunted dead zones

They’re scattered across the prime-time schedule like missing teeth in a jack-o’-lantern’s crooked grin—dead spots where nothing seems to prosper. Every network has at least one haunted time slot, one tumbledown chunk of real estate that defies development, and the longer they remain unsettled, the harder it is to draw viewers back.

ABC is saddled with two of the most pernicious time slots on the broadcast schedule (Sunday nights at 10 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursdays), while unrelenting pressure from CBS and a string of high-profile failures have made a ghost town of NBC’s once mighty Thursday lineup. While both networks have enjoyed big wins on other nights—ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (3.4) and NBC’s The Blacklist (3.3) are the season’s two highest-rated freshman series—the trouble spots are only getting worse.

Because Thursday is the most important night for advertisers (movie studios will pay any price to get fannies in the seats on opening weekends), the underdeliveries have had a destabilizing impact on NBC’s ad sales revenue. Leading off with the unvanquishable The Big Bang Theory, CBS’ two-hour comedy block commands more than twice the average unit cost booked by NBC in the same period ($207,006 versus $85,318). The same applies at 10 p.m., although in that instance, it’s ABC’s Beltway potboiler Scandal that outearns and outdelivers Parenthood by a 2.5-to-1 ratio.

Season to date, NBC’s Thursday night roster is averaging a meager 1.3 in the dollar demo, down 13 percent versus the year-ago period. This is particularly disconcerting, given entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt’s big bet on the broad, family-oriented comedies Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show, the latter of which was locked in for a full 22-episode run before the pilot was even shot. While Parenthood has pulled its weight in the night’s final hour, the 10 p.m. slot has been a boneyard since ER closed up shop in 2009. Among the failed dramas that have inhabited the hour are Prime Suspect, which averaged a 1.2 rating; The Firm (0.9); and Do No Harm (0.8). By comparison, Parenthood’s 1.4 rating is electrifying.

ABC’s own Thursday night woes include a dog’s breakfast of expensive flops: Charlie’s Angels, Missing, Last Resort, Zero Hour and the new fairy tale drama, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. A spinoff of the surprise Sunday night hit, Wonderland on Oct. 17 drew a 1.2 in the demo. If such a delivery can be said to have a silver lining, it’s this: Wonderland’s weak anchor performance didn’t appear to have inflicted too much damage to lead-outs Grey’s Anatomy (2.6) and Scandal (3.3).

ABC also faces an uphill battle at 10 p.m. Sunday, which has played host to the likes of Pan Am, 666 Park Avenue and ailing newcomer Betrayal. But, as one buyer notes, “Between cable and the DVR, 10 o’clock is everyone’s problem. … But for a few exceptions, no one is immune—Even CBS is feeling the heat.”