Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Friday night dramas will soon be a thing of the past

The announcement came and went without a lot of fanfare. In mid-April Syfy announced that it had entered into a multi-year agreement to bring the World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) Friday Night SmackDown to the network. Syfy's been airing wrestling on Tuesdays for years now with ratings success, so I really shouldn't be surprised.

What that means for Syfy, a network which built itself around its Friday night original dramas, is that it's giving up on original scripted programming for Fridays. Friday night dramas like Stargate: Universe will move to Tuesdays, where Warehouse 13 and Eureka have had success during the summer months.

Syfy president Dave Howe stated, "There is bigger opportunity for series such as Stargate Universe, Sanctuary and Caprica to thrive on a night with a significantly larger number of viewers available to watch live.” I guess that means when it isn't spring and American Idol is on the air. The Tuesday wrestling show, WWE NXT will be canceled.

While its easy to get outraged about Syfy's move, bigger things are happening here than Stargate Universe moving to Tuesdays. In fact, Friday is going the way of Saturday and it's only a matter of time before dramas vanish altogether.

While I won't reiterate's excellent article by Stephen Battaglio "Who's Killing Friday-night TV?" I agree with Battaglio that money and competition is at the root of the problem. Advertisers want viewers who are 18-49, and every day more and more of them are either out and about, playing video games, or watching TV later on DVR or the Internet.

How bad it is? Last Friday Stargate Universe had 1.391 million viewers and Merlin had 1.440 million viewers. On another network the Friday Night SmackDown averages 3.4 million viewers and is the most watched Friday program for males under 55. Viewers... especially young viewers, add up to money. So can you really blame Syfy for the move?

However, if we look at viewer erosion this year, the numbers are even more startling. Just look at what's happening on CBS...

Ghost Whisperer seasonal average:
Season 1 - 10.20 million viewers - 2.9/10 A18-49
Season 2 - 9.90 million viewers - 3.0/10 A18-49
Season 3 - 8.61 million viewers - 3.0/9 A18-49
Season 4 - 10.62 million viewers - 3.7/10 A18-49

Ghost Whisperer, now in its fifth season, last week:
May 7, 2010 - 6.461 million viewers - 1.6/6 A18-49

What do you say when a show loses four million viewers in one year? And it's not just that Ghost Whisperer's quality has fallen. Ghost Whisperer has been the number one show on Fridays through most of its run, and guess what? It still usually is (although ABC's Primetime has taken that title among adults 18-49 of late).

In fact, according to's reader ratings (or readers who watched an episode and voted on how much they liked it based on a scale of 1 to 10), readers still rank Ghost Whisperer in the mid-8s, with an overall series score of 8.6. Medium has hovered at the same or near Ghost Whisperer's ratings. The viewer rankings for Medium are slightly higher with an overall score of 8.8.

Medium last week:
May 7, 2010 - 7.121 million viewers - 1.8/6 A18-49

In fact, none of the networks can seem to get decent ratings these days on Fridays. Even ratings for the CW's Smallville, which has done pretty well on Fridays (considering it's on Fridays), have fallen this spring.

While there's not much you or I can do about this situation (other than watch the shows we love live), at one time we had seven nights of original programming. I'm not looking forward to the day when we have five.

Right now as a sci-fi entertainment journalist, on Friday's I'm covering Ghost Whisperer, Medium, Smallville, Stargate Universe, and Merlin. Come October 1, when wrestling takes over Syfy, if we're lucky and the CBS shows get picked up (and remain on Fridays), I'll be covering 3. However, those are 3 aging shows with ratings trouble. A year or two down the line that number is likely to be 0. And it's possible it will 0 when it comes to all scripted drama on Friday nights.

It reminds me of when the original Star Trek was canceled just before the networks realized that advertisers liked exactly the kind of young audience the sci-fi series could draw. Kind of ironic, isn't it?

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