Dominating the summer
The network, which emphasized a 52-weeks-a-year approach during development meetings in March to rebuild its schedule, has dominated the summer top-10 list to date. Simon Cowell and Fremantle Media-produced "America's Got Talent," which features a "Gong Show"-style talent lineup, drew in excess of 12.4 million viewers on its first night, June 21. A second edition June 28 drew 11.1 million, tying Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" for the No. 1 position at 9 p.m. among 18- to 49-year-olds in overnight ratings.
NBC wasn't shy about crowing, either. "We are thrilled about the ratings and working with Simon and his team. We hope it will be around for years to come," said NBC's senior VP-alternative programming, Craig Plestis.
NBC begins a second-night results show July 13, with the audience phoning in their own choices at 9:30 p.m. It is unclear if NBC has a sponsor involved in the show at this point. Mr. Plestis, who was behind NBC's "Deal or No Deal," said the network decided some time ago that game shows and variety were underrepresented genres on TV.
Buyers keep a close eye
Beyond "America's Got Talent," NBC has also scored with a second season of "Last Comic Standing" and the drama "Windfall," which also made the top-10 list of summer series for the last month. John Rash, director-broadcast negotiations at ad agency Campbell Mithun, said buyers keep a close eye on summer programming. "Summer series have emerged into hits. Look at 'American Idol,' 'Dancing With the Stars,' 'Big Brother' and even 'Northern Exposure.' In general, audience interest attracts advertising investments."
"America's Got Talent" so far is right in between two other recent summer hits. In their first outings, Fox's "American Idol" won 9.9 million viewers back in June 2002, while last year's "Dancing With the Stars" on ABC did even better, reaping 13.5 million viewers.
"It is curious to see such a major amount of talent shows this summer," said Shari Anne Brill, VP-director of programming, Carat, noting the number of "Idol" wannabes.
ABC and Fox
Joining NBC on the talent-finding bandwagon is ABC, with two of its own: "The One: Making of a Music Star" and "Master of Champions." Fox not only has the returning "So You Think You Can Dance" but also another Simon Cowell-backed show, "Duets," which features a non-music-business celebrity partnering with a professional voice coach to compete, in the vein of "Dancing with the Stars."
Fox is also off to a strong first month of summer, with "So You Think You Can Dance," fronted by "Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. For the week of June 19-25, Fox won in the 18- to 49-year-old and 18- to 34-year-old demographics, thanks to "Dance" and "Hell's Kitchen."
To date, CBS and ABC have had only modest success with their new entries, while the WB has the equivalent of a "Gone fishing" sign hanging until it mutates into the CW.
CBS yanked "Tuesday Night Book Club" because of disappointing ratings. ABC's "How to Get the Guy" also performed poorly, but as of last week was still on the schedule.
CBS sticks with 'Rock Star'
CBS is sticking with its second version of the Mark Burnett series "Rock Star," which got off to a slow start last summer but ended on a strong note. Online partner MSN is opening the return of the series with an online video-on-demand preview. The broadcast premiere is July 5. "Big Brother: All Stars" returns on July 6.
ABC also has a "Real World"-inspired show in the works, "One Ocean View," which has a tentative launch date of July 31.
Buyers not only track new programming, they also watch for any broadcast-audience attrition to cable. "The challenge [for the broadcast networks] is to get viewers back once the season starts," Mr. Rash said.
ABC, however, might have the biggest summer coup. When asked about the most exciting summer programming, Mr. Rash said: "The World Cup is the most compelling drama." That sports event unfolds on ABC, ESPN and Spanish-language station Univision.