Battle for viewers begins

Onlooker watches TV at an electronics store.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

BOB MOON: Here's the kind of news TV executives dream about: The Nielsen ratings service reports the amount of time the average American couch potato spends a little more time in front of the TV these days, about 3 minutes a day, to a record high four hours and 35 minutes. NBC could probably use that extra three minutes of attention the most. It's struggling to get out of fourth place as the new fall season begins and it's putting high hopes on a new drama that premiered Monday: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I spoke to Daily Variety's Stuart Levine:

STUART LEVINE: The ratings were pretty good. They were far from spectacular but they were far from abysmal. They were kind of in the middle. I don't think NBC's thrilled with it, but I'm sure they're content with it. The things about Studio 60 is it's an Aaron Sorkin show which means it's a kind of high-brow show, very similar to his West Wing. So although viewers in numbers might not be huge, it's going to get a very good demographic and it's gonna get a good, kind of what they call, household income number. The people who watch are probably going to be more affluent than most viewers so it's going to be very advertiser friendly. I think advertisers will want to be on that show. So even if numbers are not, you know, top 10, top 20 material, I still think NBC's going to give it the long haul. They're gonna give it a good chance to succeed.

MOON: This is the No. 4 network. How much are they counting on this show in particular to pull them out?

LEVINE: It's a lynchpin of their strategy, no question about it. They had very high hopes for it going into the season. It's funny, originally they had scheduled it at 9 o'clock on Thursdays, trying to get a lot of that Thursday advertising money, but immediately pulled it after CBS and ABC began their CSI-Grey's Anatomy tussle. 'Cause those two shows are huge and Studio 60 just would've gotten demolished.

MOON: Who looks to be the winner this season based on what you've seen so far?

LEVINE: There are a lot of good shows out there. It's hard to tell. At the end of the season, you always have to remember, no matter what happens in the fall, the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the wings is American Idol, which comes out in January. And no matter how many good shows come out now, once Idol comes out, it's pretty much get out of the way, here comes the monster. Fox will probably win 18-49 demo, which they did last year. Idol will no doubt be the No. 1 watched show. But it's an interesting season. Again we mentioned before that CSI-Grey's Anatomy on Thursday nights at 9 o'clock is very interesting. There's a lot of new serialized show this year. You have Kidnapped. You have a good show on ABC called The Nine about a bank hostage situation and how that kinda plays out. CBS has a really good procedural called Shark with James Woods about, he's an attorney. . .

MOON: And how much competition are they facing from their cable brethren?

LEVINE: It's tough because I mean there's a lot of good cable shows. HBO has a lot of good shows out there. The Wire has gotten better reviews this year than any show anywhere on broadcast or cable. Terrific show. Tom Shales at The Washington Post and Brian Lowry of Variety called it like the best show ever in the history of television in so many words. There's a lot of good competition out there. Showtime has some good stuff, HBO, stuff on USA and Sci-Fi, things like Battlestar Galactica and Psych and Brotherhood on Showtime. So it's an interesting season. Tough to say at this point who's going to win, but there's probably more good shows on this fall than there have been probably in the last four or five years so let's see how it all plays out.

MOON: Daily Variety's Stu Levine, thanks.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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