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Back in August and September of 1996, all the hype was flying as various networks spoke in glowing terms about their new television season, and all their new shows which were going to be launched and send their ratings into the stratosphere. Some were filled with big stars coming back, like Ted Danson and Bill Cosby. While others were boosted by fresh new faces that would send television into a new orbit. In truth, little changed. Network erosion continued as cable broke through with stronger programming at times when the audience wanted to view it and the Big Three networks continued to give us more of the same. They just don't get it! We don't want more of the same. Here is a blow-by-blow account of what happened during the first part of the year.MONDAY:
Just in case everyone does not know it, "Monday Night Football" had its worst ratings in its 27 year history. This was attributed to poor scheduling in the later part of the season with uneven team match-ups and the head-to-head battle against a World Series game in October. Yet "MNF" still carried ABC to the number one position during the first half of the year. However, it appears that CBS may capture this night as football no longer airs during the second half. "Cosby" and Danson's "Ink" fell short of last year's shows on CBS.
TUESDAY: "Rosanne" has slipped to its all time lowest ratings and "NYPD Blue" and "Home Improvement" are down as well. Yet, "Home Improvement" is still the night's highest rated show. NBC is battling ABC as the former's "Caroline in the City" is becoming successful as it is paired with "Mad About You" and "Something So Right" and Fraisier".
CBS has made some progress and FOX brought a bunch of big films out during the November Sweeps. Still ABC leads the evening.
WEDNESDAY: ABC's "Drew Carey Show" is the big success of the 1996-97 television season and is constantly the highest rated program of the night. "Ellen" has also been receiving bigger ratings. However, nothing will be as big as her tentatively scheduled show on April 30th. (See BIG EVENTS). CBS's "The Nanny" wins it's time slot but this network crashes before and after this show. NBC may have a future hit in "Chicago Sons" as it has performed well during it's mid-season start. FOX's "Beverly Hills, 90210" although aging, still pulls in big numbers. And this is one night where you cannot count out the new kids on the block, the WB network with "The Jamie Foxx Show" and UPN's "Star Trek: Voyager".THURSDAY:
It is still "Must See TV" night on NBC. Although the ratings are dropping slightly, "Friends" and "ER" continue to rule. CBS is a distant second and ABC is barely visible.
FRIDAY: ABC is down. CBS is down, except for "Nash Bridges" and FOX is down. NBC, which kept its Friday night exactly the same as the previous year is holding it's own.
SATURDAY: This is a clear cut win for CBS. In fact, it dominates this evening. "Early Edition" is the best new program of the year and is the highest rated new drama series on television. "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" just doesn't have any competition. and "Walker, Texas Ranger" is the highest rated series of the night. The only thing that can compete with CBS on this evening is an ice skating special.
SUNDAY: Again, CBS with "60 Minutes" and "Touched By An Angel" dominates this night. However, NBC's "3rd Rock From The Sun" and their NBC Sunday movie is strong competition. And, FOX has the powerhouse "X-Files" and their "King of the Hill". ABC is dead. Watch out for WB's Sunday sitcom lineup. They have grown 33% in households and 100% in adults 18-49 over last year.
OVERALL: NBC is still the number one network. But if you are in home furnishings, CBS is a very strong bet. They dominate Saturday and Sunday and one half of a season on Monday. And with "Murphy Brown" coming back for its 10th year, it looks like CBS will continue to capture Mondays.
ABC needs help. FOX seems to be slipping. WB and UPN still have an awareness problem. And Cable continues to grow.
Yet all is not lost for the networks. Because "People just don't read newspapers anymore".NEXT MONTHThe Erosion of the Network's Audience
Lance G. Hanish is the President of Lance Benefield & Co., Inc. Worldwide, a leading marketing communications firm serving home furnishings retailers. Questions on any aspect of television media management or production can be direct to Mr. Hanish care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.