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'Knight Rider' doomed and other thoughts on NBC's mid-season schedule

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December 4th, 2008

On Wednesday, NBC issued a press release regarding more of its mid-season schedule. Last week NBC already made some announcements around the return of Friday Night Lights, the premiere of The Biggest Loser: Couples, and January fare such as Momma's Boys, Howie Do It and Superstars of Dance.

Merlin? Nowhere to be found.

Yesterday's announcement showcases its after the Super Bowl plans, as well as the return of Medium, the premiere of King, the series finale of ER and a four hour event over two Sundays for XIII. The release did note that times/dates for "The Untitled Amy Poehler Project" and The Philanthropist will be announced at a later date.

Knight Rider has an early season-finale on February 25, and looking at the Renew/Cancel Index it sure seems likely it's the series finale. Plus, it is a "we don't want this show on during March sweeps" move. Though Life, which has a lower index score than Knight Rider will stick around (at least longer than Knight Rider). NBC will air a new, yet unannounced show in Knight Rider's 8pm slot beginning March 4.

I'm not sure anyone will actually speculate that Knight Rider is just "retooling" to come back strong next fall, but just in case... Unless Ford is paying NBC a hefty fee, I wouldn't be optimistic. And I wouldn't be optimistic about a company from an auto industry looking for bailouts paying hefty fees. Two words: series finale.

The solid (ratings-wise, at least last season) Medium makes its comeback on Mondays at 10pm. This brings up an issue for me where perhaps I am a bit hypocritical. Medium gets a very long hiatus since its last new episode last spring, but it is no stranger to long hiatuses. It doesn't really bother me at all, because once it's on, it's on without being put on hiatus, and it has shown that it can weather the mid-season season premieres. Obviously viewers find shows they want to find - American Idol isn't hurt by being off the air for eight months.

But the "mini-hiatus" approach with show like Chuck, Life and Heroes which have all faced their own ratings challenges I do find somewhat bothersome. Both the length of the breaks and how they time are timed. These shows will be on hiatus for seven weeks. I can't think of any successful scripted shows that take such long breaks. Many break for four or five weeks, but most shows that do so do it during the holidays, taking off most of December.

Grey's Anatomy goes on break after the December 4 episode and returns January 8, Desperate Housewives breaks after the December 7 episode and returns January 4. CSI breaks after December 11 and returns January 8, etc. Those breaks make sense to me. Heroes going on break after the December 15 episode and returning February 2? That just strikes me as too long.

I don't know if it's the notion that it kills momentum because other than perhaps Chuck, any momentum those shows has is in the wrong direction (I like Life, but its Nielsen ratings make me wince). I don't know if it's the notion that it gives people the chance to get hooked into other shows while those shows are off the air. I think mostly it's that in some ways NBC seems to be programming its broadcast network in a similar fashion to the way it programs USA and SciFi on cable, and I'm not sure that's a good call.

It's hard for me to say. It doesn't really bother me that shows like Burn Notice or Battlestar Galactica go off the air for months - I understand why it's done that way there and moreover, I'm a creature of the DVR. The shows will get recorded and I'll wind up watching. The same is true for Chuck, Life and yes (I'll admit I'm insane and still watching) Heroes. But my viewing habits can't be applied to the larger television viewing population, at least not yet.

More than two-thirds of the homes in the USA still don't have DVRs in them. I worry say for a show like Chuck being off the air for all of January just gives people time to get hooked into shows like The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. I have no doubt the hardcore Chuck faithful come back to watch in February. It's the more casual viewing fans I worry about.

All that said, a few words in defense of NBC's approach - at least this year:

I'm not sure it's a big deal this year. NBC can use the Super Bowl to promote the hell out of Heroes and Chuck which will be on the very next night. Chuck may rise to a season-high on the special 3-D episode and its associated promotion. And I have little doubt (though some doubt) that many past-lovers of Heroes who bailed on the current installment will come back to sample the premiere of the Fugitives volume. I expect it will have more viewers than the finale of the current volume, Villains. I'd expect that even without the Super Bowl promotion.

It also seems to be that Heroes will not air during May sweeps and finish up on April 20 - if that turns out to be true, I don't know if I can fault NBC. The fact is, as much as I have been ruminating on the long pauses above, in Heroes first season (due to the WGA strike, there's no comparison for the second season) it took a seven week break from December 4 to January 22. Total viewers only dropped by about 100,000 when it returned.

But then, Heroes took another seven week break between March 4 to April 23 and when it returned for five episodes, it had lost around 3 million viewers from the March 4 episode (14.9 million to 11.96 million). Other than the season one finale, which drew 13.48 million, they didn't come back for the other episodes.

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Washington Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes is not impressed by the schedule or the absence of Merlin and The Philanthropist from the schedule:

In what might be a broadcast-TV first, NBC appears to have run out of shows.

Two one-hour series that the network had set for its midseason schedule -- "The Philanthropist" and "Merlin" -- are nowhere to be found: Now it appears that the former might not debut until next season and the latter not until the summer.

 
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