Is it too soon to call Paul Lee’s first major programming decision a resounding success?

Maybe a little, but one part is definitely a success.

All the nets have struggled this season. Less chances were taken with development across the board last year and it has yielded very few new hits. Contrast that to a year ago when fresh fare like Glee and Modern Family popped big.

When ABC set their Fall Schedule last May under then programming head Steve McPherson, there were a number of surprising things. Well to me, anyway. The first was this: While I know that their Sunday lineup commands large ad rates, the night as a whole was trending down in ratings and could have used a fresh show either at 8p or 10p and they left it intact.

The other strange thing to me, was that two of their more promising new shows, Secret Millionaire and Body of Proof, were stranded on Friday night. I say promising because Secret Millionaire is the kind of show that usually works for ABC and had already worked for FOX who surprisingly let their options expire. It seemed quite possibly the show to freshen up Sunday, or at the very least another weaker 8p time period on a more viewed night. Even a show like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution that debuted well on Friday, wasn’t able to maintain those numbers. There just isn’t enough audience available. The highest rated shows on Friday don’t usually reach a 2.0 in the demo. So why not use this show on a night where it can benefit you more.

Body Of Proof’s scheduling was surprising, to me, since most scripted programming hasn’t worked for ABC on Friday lately, but dramas especially have a hard time breaking out on the night. Meanwhile, uninspiring procedurals like The Whole Truth were given the plum spot on Wednesday and even though both are sort of in the procedural camp, Body Of Proof was such a star vehicle for Dana Delany, and out of all their 10p dramas seemed to have the best shot at breaking out.

Paul Lee took over at the beginning of August and with only 6 weeks to the start of the season, it wouldn’t have been productive to upend all the promotion and marketing and make changes. But he never set premiere dates for the Friday shows, which was somewhat of a tipoff that he planned to use them elsewhere. After the first few weeks of the season he made the decision to not only move them off Friday but to launch them both with massive promotion campaigns, including the bulk of the Oscar promos.

Secret Millionaire premiered the Sunday after the Oscars and after 4 weeks it’s still getting over 10 million viewers and close to a 3.0 rating, including a massive jump at the halfway mark (usually with over 11 million viewers in the latter half). On this most recent Sunday, while the ABC dramas were in reruns, it was the standout of the night for them. In fact, for 3 out of the 4 Sundays it has aired thus far, the dramas were either in reruns or pre-empted, so one can’t cite pre tune in for Desperate Housewives as a factor of its success. There is no way this show isn’t back next season, likely on Sundays at 8p.

Body Of Proof, has been promoted since early January – almost 3 months of promotion. It debuted last night to great numbers. In fact, it was ABC’s best results in the slot with a regular hour-long program in 6 years in Total Viewers and in 3 years in Adults 18-49. Obviously it’s only week 1 and many shows drop in week 2 and beyond.  V had a huge premiere as well, only to drop off thereafter and now it’s not remotely guranteed to return next season. So let me make this clear, it is way too early to call it a hit.  But it has certainly done better than anything in that Tue 10p slot has recently and they got it sampled. Not bad for a show that was destined for Friday. Even if it drops to a 2.3-2.5 next Tuesday, that’s still a win for ABC for Tues at 10p. They smartly scheduled the second episode this Sunday after Desperate Housewives where Dana Delany last appeared, for additional sampling. This Sunday between the ACMs on CBS and reality on NBC, it will be the only drama option in the hour.

All of ABCs roster this year are shows that Mr. McPherson developed. We won’t see Paul Lee’s first full schedule until this May. But it’s looking like executive decisions Mr. Lee AND his programming team made – especially moving the Friday shows to better slots- might have helped ABC yield their only 2 new hits this season.  With Secret Millionaire, they certainly have one new hit. (He also greenlit the Winter edition of Wipeout which has helped tremendously on Thursdays even up against IDOL). It’s possible that ABC will come out of this season with 2 new hits and they likely wouldn’t have broken out on Friday night. Score one for Mr. Lee.

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2 Responses to Is it too soon to call Paul Lee’s first major programming decision a resounding success?

  1. forg says:

    To Paul’s credit too he gave the two midseason sitcoms a decent shot for success with Mr. Sunshine getting the post-MF slot and Happy Endings will have MF too as a lead in when it premieres.

    Winter/Spring Wipeout was a good decision since in a year of failing ABC freshman shows, they have no show that will perform decently against Idol, Wipeout helped ABC perform steady on Thursday night even when the Shonda dramas are on reruns

    I agree with Secret Millionaire and Body of Proof, good scheduling moves.

    My only complaint is that they just let No Ordinary Family at 8pm, switching it with DWTS could have helped it but well that’s a moot point now

  2. Upfronting scripted shows on Friday is, as Lowry said last year, “a shrewd if familiar way to try to get more money out of advertisers…”

    Friday is the bench. Human Target was put in after Lone Star went out. BoP & S.M. went in at midseason. Blue Bloods was given a try-out on Wednesdays. Last season, Ugly Betty and Law & Order were moved. (NBC went through with 10pm Outlaw to make-nice with the affiliates. The Good Guys was burned-off.)

    To make room for midseason shows, the weakest scripted shows sometimes get squeezed out and end up on Friday (Fringe), usually for burn-off (Terminator, Prison Break, Lipstick Jungle).

    Speaking of “stranded on Friday night,” Shark Tank.

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