Friday, October 07, 2005

The Network That Lives by the Series Shall Die by the Series

Yes, Major League Baseball's (MLB's) World Series can spark a ratings boost, but, in the past, networks blamed the Series for putting many new shows on permanent hiatus.

Fact or fiction?

It's tough showing the World Series (and playoffs) while building audiences for new shows at the same time. Just look at ''Kitchen Confidential'' this year. Fox puts the show on a planned break so they can show MLB playoffs, and many people start rumors that the show is in immediate danger of being cancelled. Just amazing.

Put yourself in charge of Fox. What do you do? Do you start series before the official TV season, get viewers hooked early and then give them a break to forget why they're hooked? Or do you delay the start of the TV season until after the World Series and hope that viewers haven't already picked new shows on other networks to fill their precious leisure time?

You're really between a rock and a hard place. Yes, there are shows, like ''Prison Break,'' that draw an audience early and will likely maintain that audience when the show returns. But there's also a reason why Fox is airing two eps of ''Prison Break'' this Monday. They'll try anything to maintain viewer interest.

OK, how tough is it really?

From 1991-2004, the network showing the World Series is almost 50% more likely than other networks to not order additional episodes for new Fall series. If you look at all series that premiered in August, September or October from 1991-2004, you will find that:
  • 79 series premiered on nets showing the World Series and 48 of these series (61%) didn't air a 14th episode.
  • 371 series debuted on nets not showing the World Series and 159 of these series (43%) didn't make it past the 13th episode.

That's only part of the truth though. The World Series has little effect on whether a show is picked up for a second season:
  • 79 series premiered on nets showing the World Series and 19 of these series (24%) saw a second season.
  • 371 series debuted on nets not showing the World Series and 183 of these series (31%) aired an additional season.

So what's the real story?

The net that shows the Series finds ways to promote its fav shows and renews these series for a second season at approximately the same rate as the other nets. But if the World Series net doesn't think a show has legs (see ''Head Cases''), it's going to yank that series from the airwaves faster than other nets. Why the quick trigger finger? MLB playoffs take up airtime and there just isn't enough time available for these short-lived shows.

Now you know why ''Sex, Love & Secrets'' is still on the air. If UPN was showing the World Series instead of Fox, ''SL&S'' would already be in the TV graveyard. But UPN has to air something--why not recover some sunk costs and burn off the remaining ''SL&S'' eps.

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