In the past, Friday prime-time has been a notorious dumping ground for television shows that weren’t cancelled yet, but were on their last legs, at least for dramas. Low-cost news magazines like Dateline and 20/20 have always found success here and of course in the last decade there have been several reality shows that have thrived here, but it’s been pretty much a foregone conclusion that if a drama winds up here, it’s not long for this world and will soon be gracing us only in syndication (if it has had a long enough run) or in your queue on Netflix. Well, this season I’m noticing a trend of the networks taking the risk of putting new shows that they’ve invested in and some that are actually fantastic with money-making casts (see: Blue Bloods) on Friday. They are also doing something else: they are putting perennial solid veterans on Friday as well. Now, I may not like or watch all of these shows (so you’re not going to see all of them reviewed or previewed) but it really is quite a change of pace for Fridays to say the least.
The first example is (now) CBS’s Medium which has averaged 10 million per season the last six seasons. What’s notable about this is that not only did Medium move from Monday to Fridays between seasons 5 and 6, they also switched networks (from NBC to CBS) yet still only dropped from 8.5 million viewers to 7.8 million. It simply absurd that they kept 92% of their core audience while not only moving to Fridays but to a different network.
CSI: NY on Fridays is the biggest head scratcher of all. I hate the entire CSI franchise for a myriad of reasons that I’m not going to go into right now but there’s no denying its success. Of the three shows in the franchise, CSI: NY is the worst performing of all of them but that’s kind of like saying that Tony Lazzeri was the worst run producer of the 1927 Yankees‘ three best in the infamous “Murderers Row” lineup with Babe Ruth and Lou Gherig being the two best. Any team would have loved to have had the ’27 Lazzeri in their lineup just like any network would love to have CSI: NY in theirs. By the way, I hate the Yankees more than I hate the CSI franchise but again there’s no denying their success.
CSI: NY has consistently averaged 13.3 million viewers per week CONSISTENTLY for six seasons in the Wednesday night 10:00 p.m. slot which has typically been very competitive (although I must admit that with Leno on at 10:00 p.m. for a good portion of last season there wasn’t much of a challenge) and has been in the top 25 of all shows every season except one (it was #28 during the 2007 – 2008 season although it had the exact same number of viewers – 12.6 million – that it did last year when it was #23) going as high as #17 (2008 – 2009, 13.03 million). Now it did take a dive last year falling to #44 with the 18 – 49 crowd but still, nearly 13 million is nothing to sneeze at even if you did drop in the “coveted” demographic. Needless to say, CSI:NY is pretty much a sure-thing for CBS and they didn’t put it in the Friday night slot to cancel it. Sorry… not with 13 million viewers.
An honorable mention needs to go out to Supernatural (and to an extent Smallville) which has been The CW’s stallion (for what that’s worth) on Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. for its first four seasons and that show is now on in the same slot on Fridays as well, but what REALLY caught my attention was not just all of the dramas on the major networks on Fridays but how Syfy has completely abandoned their original programming schedule on Friday nights that if I recall correctly, they’ve been going with for over a decade. SyFy’s two most popular shows – the Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica and the franchise favorite Stargate: Universe – have been moved to Tuesday nights, premiering on October 5th. This is monumental and I haven’t seen anyone take note of this. SyFy owned Friday nights and one can only assume that this waving of the white flag was in response to the major networks actually paying attention to Friday nights again.
So why this big change in attitude towards Friday night prime-time? Historically, the reason why the Friday night line-up has been so mediocre is because viewers go out on Friday nights and don’t normally stay in to watch television… especially the “coveted” 18 – 49 demographic. Mind you, this is entirely speculative on my part but I have a theory: it’s the economy. More and more people are staying home for entertainment instead of going out in order to save money. When you’ve got unemployment at around 10% and 40% of the population who are worried that they might possibly lose their job within the next year, that’s certainly not a situation conducive to spending a bunch of money out at the club. People are saving more, spending less, paying off credit cards and when they are spending money on entertainment it’s on long-term appliances like HD TV’s and Blu Ray players, both of which have gone down dramatically in price this year.
So, there is no question that most of the networks now see value in Friday night but the question is: didn’t FOX get the memo?
You see, FOX bothers me to no end with their programming decisions. They are notorious for giving up too quickly on quality shows, not giving them a chance for audiences to grow and if they do throw an audience a bone and renew a show with borderline ratings, they stick it in Friday night to die. The decisions they make at FOX are mind-boggling and reactionary on a whole different level. Why these morons don’t understand that when you have the highest rated show of all time on three nights a week that it actually gives you latitude when it comes to relaxing a little bit when a drama doesn’t immediately perform as you hoped it would is far beyond my level of comprehension. Hell, put American Idol on every night and use it as a lead-in for every 9:00 p.m. show. It worked for 24! I will remind you that this is the same network that cancelled Family Guy. I will also remind you that this is the same network that cancelled perhaps the greatest Sci Fi series of all time, Firefly, after 11 stinkin’ episodes. Topless Robot has a great article that explains exactly how stupid the programming decisions at FOX have been.
And this is exactly the approach that FOX is going with for both Human Target and The Good Guys, both critically acclaimed shows that had marginal ratings when the aired last season. It’s not even remotely fair what they’re doing to The Good Guys even by FOX’s idiotic standards, premiering it on a Monday in the middle of May when all of the other shows are wrapping up, letting it run for nine episodes over the summer and then dumping it into Friday night because it didn’t catch fire fast enough for them. Human Target on the other hand is one of the best shows on TV, period and could very easily build a locked-in huge genre audience if FOX had the foresight to give it a chance like they did with 24 in 2001 which, by the way had the identical audience numbers that Human Target had during its first season.
Now, you might be saying, “Now, waitaminute, here… how do YOU know that FOX isn’t doing the same thing that the other networks are doing?” Nope, wrong. First, consider that we’re talking about FOX and we’ve already established what is common knowledge about their programming practices. Second, the other networks mentioned are putting up four strong veteran dramas with built-in audiences and three new shows that they have just sunk a bunch of money into in order to develop. You NEVER put a show with weak/mediocre numbers in a Friday slot if you want it to survive and have the audience grow. Hopefully, because of the other networks taking Friday night seriously for once, these two great shows can be successful despite the neglect from FOX. I doubt it, but I remain hopeful… because I really love Human Target.
Watch full epsidoes of Human Target, here.
Watch full episodes of The Good Guys, here.