Thursday, January 05, 2006

Somethin's Happenin' Here

What it is ain't exactly clear.

Well actually it is (at least I think so), but first I suppose I should tell you what's happening that's enough to get me to post about it.

It's January 4 and in most years we are enduring what some people - originally Buffy and Angel fans I think, at least the first time I saw the term was in newsgroups for those two shows - call (cue reverb) Rerun Hell! that period when shows you have become very fond of and which have survived the winnowing (I like that word - it means separating the grain from the chaff) process of Nielsen and November Sweeps take a not particularly well deserved break so that they'll have enough episodes left to show during February and May Sweeps. But take a look at tonight's lineup on the six US networks. ABC has the season debut of Dancing With The Stars; NBC has new episodes of Will & Grace, ER the newly transplanted My Name Is Earl and The Office, and the debut of Four Kings; CBS has new episodes of CSI and Without A Trace; and Fox has a Rob Schneider movie The Hot Chick (which oddly enough is most an improvement over their normal lineup. Only UPN and The WB are airing reruns (well CBS has an older CSI in the Survivor time slot, but that's another story) and in the case of The WB one of the reruns is of their summer series Beauty And The Geek which is a week-long marathon before the show comes back for a second season next Thursday. The trend continues with relatively few exceptions (in one case NBC has The Golden Globes and Fox has two hours of 24 - CBS decided that would be a good Monday to run previously seen episodes) until at least January 17, which is as far as Zap2It goes. In that time you have the debuts of over ten new series including Emily's Reasons Why Not, Love Monkey, Courting Alex, Crumbs, and The Book Of Daniel, as well as the return of a number of series which have either been held back like Scrubs and Jake in Progress, or were intended for a special run, like Dancing With The Stars and 24. This is not normal. In most cases new shows would be held for February sweeps or after sweeps. Just as an example, last year Blind Justice debuted in March. So what is happening here?

The answer is that there's a 2000 lb. gorilla in the room - the kind that not only sits where it wants but doesn't apologise when it breaks stuff. Take a look at this calendar:

The dates with red backgrounds represent the gorilla - the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. Seventeen days out of the February sweeps period when - short of repeating "Nipplegate" but letting people know it's going to happen first - NBC will win every night. Why? Because even if they think that Curling is something done to women in a hair salon and Skiing is done behind a high powered boat - and more importantly even though NBC offers coverage that can be charitably described as "crap" - Americans will watch the Winter Olympics in prime time (because of course NBC doesn't show the games live even when they're in the United States) in droves to cheer for the Red, White, and Blue.

What's a network without the Olympics to do with such a gorilla? My guess is that with a few exceptions - like 24 they'll get out of the way. I think this is why they're setting up limited run series like Beauty And The Geek, Skating With The Celebrities and Dancing With The Stars to reach a climax during those week and throwing out a few new shows, hoping they'll either build an audience and be relatively safe after the Olympics or (more likely in most cases) will crash and burn so that they can be finished off during the Games. For their regular series I think that February will see a lot of the repeats that January normally does. However the networks without the Olympics can't let NBC benefit from a post-Olympics bounce - thanks to show promotion during the Games - so they seem to have decided to run new shows in January And of course to compete NBC has to run new episodes of their shows opposite the other networks new episodes or else their ratings are hurt. At least that's how I see it

It's all a complex, fascinating, maddening game.

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