In fact, lackluster quality and prudent scheduling behind strong lead-ins have prompted media buying executives at Bozell, New York, to redefine just what they consider to be a hit or a miss.
"A program might win one time period with a rating that would relegate it to third place in another," said Steve Sternberg, Bozell's senior VP-broadcast research. "All 20-shares are not equal and when evaluating new series, they can no longer be grouped together based solely on projected household share levels."
Mr. Sternberg said a hit show should be one that manages more than a 20 share, wins its time period and holds onto at least 80% of the lead-in's audience. By that yardstick, Mr. Sternberg said, "We see no breakout hits on the Big 4."
Advertising Age's annual pre-upfront share estimate survey shows many other media buyers share Mr. Sternberg's assessment.
"From what we saw, nothing appeared to be a breakaway hit or even capable of being a surprise hit," said Frank Campisi, director of national broadcast at SFM Media Corp., New York. "It's really difficult to determine if any of these shows could stand on its own in an unprotected time slot."
Ad Age's survey gives passing grades-albeit grudgingly-to only two NBC shows-"The Cosby Mysteries" on Wednesdays and "Madman of the People" on Thursdays.
Yet Fox may end up with more renewals than any other network, since media buyers judge Fox by a different standard. A 12 share and second-place finish in a time slot has usually been the benchmark for success, and media buyers say "Hardball," "Models" "Mantis" and "Uptown Undercover" could achieve that if given the chance.
But while media buyers believe most new shows have marginal chances for renewal, they do say the shows are advertiser-friendly.
One big agency buyer summed it up: "They cut down on those awful video-based shows; got rid of those never-can-work variety shows; went with some safe, solid comedies; and added more ad-friendly family dramas, cop shows and action/adventure programs."
Media buyers say ABC will topple CBS next season to become the top-rated network, but they are reluctant to estimate the victory margin, as the two networks might reconfigure their schedules before the summer is over.
Media buyers believe either CBS or NBC will rethink Thursday nights, since both have hospital dramas scheduled at 10 p.m. (ET). The odds are close, but media buyers believe CBS' "Chicago Hope" will win, forcing NBC to swap "E.R." with its critically acclaimed Friday night cop drama, "Homicide: Life on the Street."