Networks Cope with Post-Strike Viewer Diaspora
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
If you missed your favorite TV shows during the long Hollywood writers strike, relief maybe on the way. New episodes of many scripted programs are finally coming out.
And NPR's Kim Masters reports, network executives are anxiously watching to see if viewers have found something better to do in the meantime.
KIM MASTERS: If you've watched network television lately, you might have gotten a hint that the new episodes are coming.
(Soundbite of song "Welcome Back")
Mr. JOHN SEBASTIAN (Singer): (Singing) Welcome back to the same old place that you laughed about.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #1: The laughter never sounded so sweet.
(Soundbite of show "The Office")
Mr. RAINN WILSON (Actor): (As Dwight Schrute) Shut up. Or I'm going to punch you in the throat.
Unidentified Man #2: New comedy returns to Thursday, April 3rd on NBC.
MASTERS: CBS was the first one into the pool last week with its Monday night block of sitcoms: "How I Met Your Mother," "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory."
Mr. KELLY KAHL (Senior Executive Vice President of Programming, CBS): We were not terribly sure whether the viewers would come back. And if so, how many would come back?
MASTERS: Kelly Kahl is senior executive vice president of programming at CBS.
Mr. KAHL: We've been off a long time and, you know, you hear a lot about of viewer apathy, you hear people saying they've - are finding other things to do. And so, yeah, you get a little nervous.
Mr. JAMES HIBBERD (Staff Writer, The Hollywood Reporter): Those comedies did really, really well.
MASTERS: James Hibberd covers television for The Hollywood Reporter. And he says, normally after a break, audiences don't come rushing back. That's why the strong ratings were a surprise.
Mr. HIBBERD: And I think what that shows is that audiences are paying attention. And that if you bring back shows that they're really interested in, they will be there to watch.
MASTERS: The veteran shows pulled in season highs in terms of ratings. That more than satisfied CBS, says the network's Kelly Kahl.
Mr. KAHL: Certainly, we feel a lot better knowing that the audiences seemed to be ready to embrace new shows again.
MASTERS: But it isn't clear yet that the networks are out of the woods.
Mr. HIBBERD: Since the end of the strike, all the networks except FOX are down double digits.
MASTERS: James Hibberd points out that the CBS comedies are self-contained, which gives viewers the feeling that they can jump back in it anytime. But dramas are different.
Mr. HIBBERD: Shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives" might not necessarily do as well coming back because they have that serialized thread that they have to pick back up again.
MASTERS: On the other hand, if you were following the serial, you'd probably want to watch.
Mr. HIBBERD: You would think, but usually serialized shows are the ones that tend to be hurt the most from drops. We saw this last year because "Jericho," "Lost" and "Heroes" all took long-winter hiatuses, and when they came back, they all came back alarmingly down.
MASTERS: Not all shows will be returning this spring. A number of scripted dramas, including "24" and "Heroes" won't be back until fall when their stories can air on uninterrupted. That also applies to some of the newer programs that would expensive to relaunch now for a few episodes.
Mr. HIBBERD: So you have shows like "Pushing Daisies" and "Chuck." that have these really long gaps before viewers have a chance to see them again.
MASTERS: Thanks to the truncated season, the networks won't have as much ratings data as usual to help them decide whether to cancel wobbly shows. But Hibberd says they'll glean what they can from the May sweeps. Normally, the sweeps are a time when the networks compete for rating supremacy. But this year…
(Soundbite of show "American Idol")
Mr. MARK THOMPSON (Announcer): It's your show. They're your votes. What have you done? It's "American Idol."
(Soundbite of "American Idol" theme)
MASTERS: FOX has already been powered to global domination.
Kim Masters, NPR News.
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