NBC, however, hasnât ruled on where âThe Apprenticeâ and âJoeyâ will land once the prime-time schedule returns to normal post-Olympics, after Feb. 28.
âThis is a big move to reestablish a comedy habit,â said Mitch Metcalf, NBCâs exec VP-program planning. âWhat we find over and over is viewers like to waltch comedies in blocks. And this is the time to reestablish that on Thursday because we have the goods.â
The ratings for the current season of âThe Apprenticeâ have been the lowest ever. This season the show has averaged 10.5 million viewers, down from almost 14 million in the previous season. âJoeyâ is down as well, from about 10.5 million viewers to 7.6 million. Mr. Trump has blamed the downward trend on NBCâs doubling up on the show, airing âThe Apprentice: Martha Stewartâ the night before.
This month, he complained to the New York Daily News that his lead-ins were to blame. âIf we had the same lead-in as season one, I think Iâd be getting higher ratings than season one. Instead of having âJoeyâ and whatever, I think we would have actually higher ratings,â he said.
The network will keep âThe Officeâ as âEarlâsâ lead-out, encouraged that âThe Officeâ is increasing its retention of âEarlâsâ audience. The most recent episode of âThe Officeâ retained 76% of âEarlâsâ lead-in audience, as opposed to the early season retention rates that hovered in the mid-60s% range.
Media buyers say moving âEarlâ to Thursday will help the network shore up its bleeding of ad revenue on the most profitable night in TV. Replacing the âEarlâ/âOfficeâ combo on Tuesday will be âFear Factorâ followed by an hour of âScrubs.â
âThe [Officeâs] retentionâŚ is great with 18-to-34-year-olds, picking up with 35-to-49-year-olds,â said Mr. Metcalf. âItâs upscale and itâs the kind of show that will keep slowly but surely broadening out.â
Thursdays were for more than a decade ruled by the Peacock network, but once âFriendsâ ended, the âMust-See TVâ block has struggled to hold on to viewers, despite the gamble that fans would come back to watch spin off âJoey.â And then CBS crept in with its âCSIâ franchise.
âYouâd love to see NBC build back Thursday night,â said Harry Keeshan, exec VP-national broadcast buying at PHD. âItâs a great night to advertise.â
Adds Ed Gentner, senior VP-group director, national broadcast, MediaVest: âAnything that increases overall ratings Iâd love to seeâŚ but Iâd certainly want to see them replace it with something that wonât fall off.â