Keeps ‘Idol’ In Place, Opening Door For NBC’s ‘Earl’ On Thurdays

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NEW YORK ( -- Fox this afternoon said it will maintain its Tuesday-Wednesday one-two punch with “American Idol,” leaving the door open for NBC to make a run at reclaiming its Thursday-night crown.

Networks such as NBC and ABC have been waiting for Fox to make the move before deciding what to put on their Thursday schedules.

“Right now, with ‘American Idol,’ they hold all the power,” said one broadcast network executive.

The expectation was that if Fox moved “Idol” to Thursday, NBC would keep its comedy “My Name is Earl” on Tuesday, to avoid going up against the 18-to-49 ratings giant. NBC has weighed moving “My Name is Earl” to Thursday night in an attempt to rebuild what used to be its most profitable night. NBC plans to release its final decision for its midseason line up tomorrow.

High ratings, high price
The two nights of “American Idol” were last year’s two highest rated shows in viewers 18-to-49. According to Ad Age’s 2005 to 2006 network pricing chart, it commands the highest ad rates, with the price of the 30-second spot running $518,466 in the Wednesday edition and $496,866 in the Tuesday edition.

Season-to-date, CBS and ABC are tied for viewers 18-to-49 with a 4.1/11. ABC is the only network to have grown that rating since last year, up 5%. NBC has so far dropped 18% over the same period last year in 18-to-49s and Fox is down 11%, though most of that is due to lower sports ratings compared to last year.

With Fox’s decision to leave its lineup intact, the broadcast network “second season” can begin to take shape. And to avoid falling back in to the overall ratings erosion trend that last year’s hits reversed, they’ll need a few ratings stars.

Season-to-date, overall ratings are off 3% from the same time period last year -- a strikingly small amount given that no “Desperate Housewives”-like breakout hits have emerged during the fall season. There have been bright spots -- including NBC’s “Earl” -- but nothing like ABC’s breakouts of 2004, which were largely credited with reviving network TV.

“You’d think without a breakout hit [so far] we’d got back to the old trend of decreasing ratings,” said Ed Gentner, senior VP-group director, national broadcast, MediaVest. “The difference was the couple of hits that came out midseason and now they’re on the schedule from the beginning of the season this year.”

More pressure
That puts more pressure on this year’s midseason schedule to produce a hit. The second half of the TV season is especially important given it’s the networks lead in to the upfront negotiating period.

So far this season, broadcast network scatter pricing is stable with increases over upfront pricing at all the networks but NBC, wrote Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif-Cohen in a note issued to investors this morning. NBC is the only network in a make-good situation, she wrote.

NBC has high hopes for two other shows -- its Aidan Quinn-starring drama “Book of Daniel,” about a reverend and family man, and Seth Green’s “Four Kings,” which follows four twenty-something guys who inherit a New York City apartment. The network has yet to announce where it will place the shows within its schedule, which largely hinges on any decisions to shift “Earl” to Thursday night. The network will, however, have two potential premiere periods -- January and March -- before and after the Olympics.

CBS has slated “The Jenna Elfman Show” for Mondays at 9:30 p.m., in place of “Out of Practice,” which will return after the Olympics end in March. The network will drop in “Love Monkey,” in which former “Ed” star Tom Cavanagh plays a single record-company executive, Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 9 p.m. It’s also holding drama “The Unit” and Julia Louise-Dreyfuss comedy “The New Adventures of Old Christine” for March debuts.

ABC, meanwhile, will replace “Monday Night Football” with “Emily’s Reason’s Why Not,” starring Heather Graham, at 9 p.m., John Stamos’s “Jake in Progress” at 9:30 p.m. and “The Bachelor” at 10 p.m. “Wife Swap” will lead with the 8 p.m. slot.

Fox, which only programs two hours of prime-time programming a night, has a crowded schedule come January, thanks to the return of its two biggest hits, “Idol” and “24,” which will premiere over two nights Jan. 15 and 16. Fox’s new “Skating with Celebrities” premieres Wednesday, Jan. 18, and moves to its regular Monday night 9 p.m. spot on Jan. 23. Its freshman hit “Prison Break” returns Monday, March 13 at 8 p.m.

Midseason stars
Last year the broadcast networks all carried at least one midseason replacement show over onto the fall schedule. Two of last season’s notable midseason shows included ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” now the fourth-highest rated show in the 18-to-49 demographic, and NBC’s “Medium,” which has helped the network build its Wednesday night profile.

UPN’s midseason plans include new drama “South Beach,” which will debut Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. and its party-planning reality series “Get This Party Started,” which premieres in its regular Tuesday night time slot Jan. 24 at 9 p.m.

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