Looks to Rebuild Comedy Block With ‘Earl,’ ‘Office’

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Donald Trump and “Joey” have been bumped off their Thursday perch by newcomer “Earl.”

Photo: AP
Donald Trump
NBC has announced its midseason schedule today, in which it hopes to rebuild a comedy block Thursday night as it sends Tuesday night success “My Name is Earl” to Thursday. “Will & Grace,” in its final season, will anchor the Thursday night block at 8 p.m., followed by the Seth Green-starring “Four Kings,” “Earl” and “The Office.” “ER” will remain in the 10 p.m. spot. The new schedule debuts the week of Jan. 2.

NBC, however, hasn’t ruled on where “The Apprentice” and “Joey” will land once the prime-time schedule returns to normal post-Olympics, after Feb. 28.

“This is a big move to reestablish a comedy habit,” said Mitch Metcalf, NBC’s exec VP-program planning. “What 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.”

The ratings for the current season of “The Apprentice” have been the lowest ever. This season the show has averaged 10.5 million viewers, down from almost 14 million in the previous season. “Joey” is down as well, from about 10.5 million viewers to 7.6 million. Mr. Trump has blamed the downward trend on NBC’s doubling up on the show, airing “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” the night before.

This month, he complained to the New York Daily News that his lead-ins were to blame. “If we had the same lead-in as season one, I think I’d be getting higher ratings than season one. Instead of having ‘Joey’ and whatever, I think we would have actually higher ratings,” he said.

The network will keep “The Office” as “Earl’s” lead-out, encouraged that “The Office” is increasing its retention of “Earl’s” audience. The most recent episode of “The Office” retained 76% of “Earl’s” lead-in audience, as opposed to the early season retention rates that hovered in the mid-60s% range.

Media buyers say moving “Earl” to Thursday will help the network shore up its bleeding of ad revenue on the most profitable night in TV. Replacing the “Earl”/”Office” combo on Tuesday will be “Fear Factor” followed by an hour of “Scrubs.”

“The [Office’s] retention… is great with 18-to-34-year-olds, picking up with 35-to-49-year-olds,” said Mr. Metcalf. “It’s upscale and it’s the kind of show that will keep slowly but surely broadening out.”

Thursdays were for more than a decade ruled by the Peacock network, but once “Friends” ended, the “Must-See TV” block has struggled to hold on to viewers, despite the gamble that fans would come back to watch spin off “Joey.” And then CBS crept in with its “CSI” franchise.

“You’d love to see NBC build back Thursday night,” said Harry Keeshan, exec VP-national broadcast buying at PHD. “It’s a great night to advertise.”

Adds Ed Gentner, senior VP-group director, national broadcast, MediaVest: “Anything that increases overall ratings I’d love to see… but I’d certainly want to see them replace it with something that won’t fall off.”

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