Let me tell you a story about how I am responsible for “The Resident” benefitting from following the NFC Championship game (well, really the postgame) on Sunday.
One of the biggest challenges of working at FOX was it being a 15-hour network. FOX affiliates believed there was an enormous advantage to getting on with local news an hour before the 11 p.m. newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC stations, and the one-hour format meant more ad units to sell and a more profitable telecast.
That was all well and good for the local stations; FOX also owned and operated stations in several of the major markets. But as the network scheduler, it created some real dilemmas. When I started at FOX, and for the first year or so that I was there, we had a pretty large library of theatricals, several of which ran for two and a half or three hours. Given that six of the seven nights were only two hours long, and Sunday movies needed to start at 7 p.m. — preempting one of our most successful nights — we often needed to go beyond 10 p.m. That meant sliding the local news.
When I started the scheduling gig, I was told that the network was allowed to go long once every quarter without getting the approval of our affiliates and owned stations. I really don’t think that this was ever formally put in writing, and often when I invoked this alleged rule, there was a blowup with the affiliates.
The other major argument had to do with going a few minutes beyond 10 p.m. Having started my career in TV stations research, I knew local market ratings were measured in 15-minute increments, rather than the average minute audience, which is a national measure. As long as the network program did not go beyond 10:07 p.m., the local station would get credit for the 10-10:15 quarter hour. In the early years of “American Idol,” we would often go a few minutes long for a live show and all hell would break loose, even though the stations were getting “Idol” ratings in their local news numbers.
I would try to explain this to anyone who would listen, but the affiliates were convinced that not starting their local news on time was more damaging than the huge rating for an “Idol” overrun. They knew I was right, and we institutionalized that the “Idol” finales would run until 10:07 so the DVR times were accurate and the local stations benefitted from the overrun.
Which brings me to Sunday, the NFC title game and “The Resident.”
FOX alternates airing the NFL conference championship games in primetime with CBS. One year FOX gets the late NFC game, and CBS has a late AFC game the following year. Because CBS is a 22-hour network they would naturally take advantage of the second largest audience of the year by putting an entertainment show after the game.
When I got to FOX, I noticed we threw back to the stations following the postgame. I started questioning why we did that and got the answer back that it was affiliate time. I said that was nonsense since we aired entertainment every three years following the Super Bowl.
This went on for a few cycles, but I was persistent and finally we worked something out with the affiliates for some extra ad units in exchange for the additional hour following the event. FOX now gets the same time that CBS gets following the AFC Championship game.
“The Resident” delivered a solid pilot, and it won the MASKY for Best Midseason Drama. If it’s a hit for FOX, I am happy to have played some small part in its success. Maybe they’ll name a patient after me.