Lots of Questions for The Nets Tonight – As IDOL returns

So American Idol returns tonight and while there are some questions regarding that show and franchise, I still expect it to be the biggest show on TV this season… By A Lot! Let’s face it, the highest rated shows these days are getting high 4’s. IDOL is both a cultural phenomenon, a reality competition and probably most importantly, LIVE for much of its run – 3 things that seem to still be holding up well in this ever-changing DVR infused world.

Last year’s premiere improved on 09’s and got 29.7 viewers and an 11.7 in the demo. Even if drops two points tonight – a 9.7 is astronomical in today’s age. I don’t necessarily think it will go down as dramatically tonight. There is lots of curiosity with the new format and judges. The bigger drops will probably come after people have sampled it. I don’t usually watch the show til  it gets down to real singers in Hollywood week. I usually skip what I deem as the “humiliation rounds”. But as a student of the medium I will check in tonight so I can comment on the changes, and I suspect there are others like me. So I expect a mega premiere and frankly I still expect a big season (especially relative to the rest of network TV). The numbers for the biggest scripted hits each year come down, yet football and other LIVE sporting events are rising. I liken IDOL to those programs more than scripted hits. People want to be able to comment at the watercooler the next day. Even if the lack of Simon Cowell takes the show down some, it will still be huge (hell if you cut last year’s numbers in half it still is the biggest show on TV).

But you never know. IDOL had a really uninteresting, boring and badly produced season last year and people still watched it way more than any other show. Plus, if reality shows have taught us anything, it’s that they’re unpredictable. DWTS had a bad and lower rated season in Fall 09 and then came back stronger than ever last Spring. This fall The Biggest Loser looked way low. This new edition, is as Maxine Nightingale might say “right back where they started from”.

It is also possible IDOL might re-invent themselves in a good way. It’s certainbly possible these new contestants will really connect with the viewing audience. But even if it doesn’t come back as strong, it will still be the biggest on TV, by far, this season. The great thing about this business is there are surprises all the time, sometimes when you least expect it. I do expect IDOL to remain strong, even if is down, but maybe some shows will stand up to it better than expected. So now let’s look at how the other nets might be affected.   

CBS

Paula’s show Live To Dance was already down to a 1.5 last week. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get a 1.o tonight. The question is, does IDOL and the lack of a good lead in at 8 hurt a new Criminal Minds at 9. Any other network, probably. CBS, most likely not. I expect it to get anywhere from a low to mid 3, which vs IDOL is not far off from what they usually get. Last year vs. IDOLs mammoth premiere, NCIS got over 20 million viewers and a 4.1 in the demo. Yes, CBS seems immune to just about anything. The bigger question is how does Blue Bloods do in the first of its 4 week stay on Wednesdays. Considering it got 10 million viewers and a 1.8 out of CSI:NY (holding practically all of that show’s audience) on Friday, I expect it to do far better than The Defenders, so at least a 2.5. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it be #1 in the hour or at least tied with SVU.  Once Survivor and the Crminal Minds spinoff join the lineup on Feb 16th, I expect CBS to be a strong #2 for the night.

NBC

Minute To Win It should probably hold up okay getting a high 1. NBC has scheduled Chase at 9, which should be 4th in the hour, by a lot. I assume this is a 3 week experiment as I am guessing it will be pulled before sweeps begins. The question is, does this anemic lead in hurt SVU at 10. NBC isn’t CBS, but IDOL is over at 10 and those viewers might switch to the most well-known and biggest hit in the hour, which NBC has promoting the hell out of this week. Last week it got a 2.5. I could see it duplicating that this week.

ABC

Here’s the big question. Just as CBS seems to be the most immune against any kind of ratings threat, ABC is the most vulnerable, for whatever reason. Last year Modern Family help up well vs IDOL, but IDOL wasn’t facing it on premiere night and MF usually faced the first half of the results show. Now through the end of the season, MF is facing the higher rated, performance show. I expect it to get dinged a bit tonight. If it gets a 4.0, ABC should be happy. Higher than a 4.0, ABC should be thrilled. But let’s go back to the 8p hour, The Middle has been doing really well at 8. Last week it got its highest numbers – 10 million viewers and a 3.0 in the demo. If they get a 2.5, again, ABC should be thrilled. The problem is the 8:30 show, Better With You. This show has been losing some of its Middle lead in, even as HUT levels rise and people tune in to MF. It doesn’t get a rise out of DVR. It’s clearly a show people are apathetic about. Not what you want in TV. When there’s not much competition, it’s not a big deal. But what if some people watch The Middle live and then flip at 8:30 to IDOL. It’s quite likely, unlike other shows they might switch to, they don’t come back for Modern Family at 9. If I were ABC , I’d be concerned about that. I’m sure ABC is, as the next 2 weeks when The ABC comedies from 8-9:30 are in reruns, instead of a Better With You rerun, ABC has opted to run another Middle rerun. (In his chat with AOLs Mo Ryan, Bill Lawrence intimated that even though Cougar Town takes a 9 week hiatus after Feb 2nd, there might be some reruns on the night in a different slot – I’m thinking 8:30. cougar-town-penny-can

Getting back to tonight. If Cougar Town gets a 2.5, ABC should be happy. What I am sure ABC is most concerned with, is how Off The Map does at 10. The premiere got a 2.3 and their smart, hastily scheduled rerun on Thurs got a 2.0. Between the 2 nights it had 13 million viewers. It will most definitely drop, as most shows do after the premiere. But, if it gets a 2.0. ABC should be ecstatic. First of all, it’s not a huge drop. Secondly the bar is low in this hour and on this night. The Whole Truth was getting low 1’s. The post pilot episodes are supposed to be much better, and Castle took a season to grow, so it’s not unfathomable for this show to grow over time. I wouldn’t bet against Shonda Rhimes. Plus, SVU is in reruns the next 2 weeks. This show is a big question mark, but again, anything near a 2.0 is good news for ABC. Conversely, a 1.5 would be bad news for them.

Other questions:

10p also brings back Hot In Cleveland and new sitcom Retired at 35. TV Land has been promoting the hell out of the former. The beloved Betty White was on every show known to man yesterday. It’s possible this can also cut into the 10p hour. Another thing –  10p is a big DVR playback hour. On a night like tonight when many people will be watching IDOL live, it’s more than likely 10p will be the “let’s play back Modern Family etc hour”. The 10p numbers could be depressed as a whole because of this. Who knows?

One thing is clear: With GLEE on Tuesdays, IDOL Wed/Thu, the Sunday animated hits, House on Monday with the possibility of a new hit, The Chicago Code, and oh yeah the SUPER BOWL, Fox will be on fire starting… now. They will make up for their Fall deficiencies pretty quickly and will rule the nets through the end of the season.

Related from last week: another-perk-for-fox-in-moving-american-idol-to-wedthu

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