The situation is only underscored by CBS's decision this week to run a repeat of "NCIS" this Friday, replacing its new romantic drama, "The Ex List." The program, a relative novelty for a network that fills its airwaves with crime procedurals, was losing some share from its "Ghost Whisperer" lead-in, noted Steven Sternberg, exec VP-audience analysis at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna, in a recent research note, and "CBS could probably do just as well with something else."
Struggling to get off the ground
As such, "Ex List" joins a list of early-season casualties, not to mention a lineup of new programs that -- save for a handful -- have failed to dazzle. Already, Fox has replaced "Do Not Disturb," a sitcom set in a hotel that many had pegged for the chopping block as far back as May presentations to ad buyers. ABC has pre-empted the reality game show "Opportunity Knocks." Late last week, NBC said it would shuffle its Wednesday-night lineup, bringing in stalwart crime drama "Law & Order," thereby exiling "Lipstick Jungle" to Friday.
Program cancellations and additions are a tried-and-true part of the traditional TV season. Networks move shows around as ratings and rival maneuvers dictate. Since last season was crimped by a massive writers strike, however, the networks have launched fewer programs this autumn, and some freshman and sophomore programs are not turning in robust performance.
According to Mr. Sternberg's analysis, ABC's time-shifting cop drama "Life on Mars" could be in trouble. Meanwhile, NBC "has had no success with its new series," as "Kath & Kim," "My Own Worst Enemy," "Knight Rider" and "Crusoe" have "all been disappointments for the network." What's more, a host of programs that were forced off air by the writers strike last season "are not performing up to their respective networks' expectations" in this one, he added. This list includes "Pushing Daisies, "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money," all on ABC; "Life" and "Lipstick Jungle" on NBC; and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" on Fox. "Terminator" and "Private Practice" have the "best chance of lasting through the season," Mr. Sternberg suggested.
'Fringe' among the front-runners
The season does have some bright spots. Fox's "Fringe" is a standout, so far. The News Corp. network is running the program with a reduced commercial load and shorter ad breaks. Meanwhile, CBS's "The Mentalist" has had only minimal audience fall-off since its premiere. Another CBS drama, "Eleventh Hour," has gained among older viewers since its debut, Mr. Sternberg said, and has maintained some of its ratings. CBS appears to be faring well in the early season, with new sitcoms "Worst Week" and "Gary Unmarried" holding on.
If CBS's "Ex List" does not return to the schedule, it will mark the latest in a string of failed efforts by the Tiffany network to stretch beyond its crime-drama wheelhouse. For several seasons, CBS has tried to launch breakout series, such as the music-industry romantic comedy "Love Monkey"; the musical drama "Viva Laughlin"; and '70s-era swingers' paradise "Swingtown." Some of those efforts have been critically praised, but didn't muster enough ratings to stay on the air.