Sunday, September 6, 2009

19 Timeslots, Sunday 10PM

So here we are, the end of the road. Sundays at 10 are a very different situation for the three networks, and somewhat unique within each net. For one, it's the lead-out to a top drama, one of the most plum spots on the net. For another, it's one of the net's lowest priority spots in the fall because football overruns can push the start of the program nearly out of primetime. For the third, it's sports in the fall, meaning you can't air something that would be year-round in the first and second quarters.

ABC: Fall 2004 saw the very successful launch of Desperate Housewives, not just a major hit in its own right but also one of the very few major hits of the last five years that proved time and again a capable lead-in to launch other programs at 10:00. In season 1 it was Boston Legal and Grey's Anatomy here, both of which eventually went to other nights and saw 5+ seasons each. In season 2 Grey's did most of the duty but a brief run by What About Brian won it a second season on another night. For season 3 Grey's was on the move meaning yet another newbie Brothers & Sisters launched and made it to yet another second season. Unlike the other post-DH lead-outs, it hasn't left the hour and continues there for its fourth straight season despite ABC seemingly being on the verge of pulling off a move on an almost yearly basis. It averaged about a 3.5 demo in originals last season. During the writer's strike, the first season of reality effort Here Come the Newlyweds also aired here.

CBS: Though the huge NFL lead-in is a big help to the opening hours of CBS Sunday primetime, the returns greatly diminish as the evening wears on making this a tough hour for the eye. Their last year of true aggression in the hour was '06-'07 when they moved longtime Thursday tentpole Without a Trace to the slot and regularly saw gains out of 9:00 show Cold Case. For fall '07 they returned WAT to its Thursday home and brought in sophomore legal drama Shark which generally skewed too old to continue into a third season. During the writer's strike of '08 the net got an OK run out of Showtime original series Dexter in this hour. For '07-'08 it was another deprioritized show in The Unit and again it got the axe. If this trend is any indication, next on the chopping block is Cold Case, which had three years at 8 and three years at 9 and now begins a run at 10.

NBC: Sunday Night Football will likely find demo dominance in this hour again this fall. After the season it's a little tougher. For early '07 the net went with a couple of fast-fading NBC staples in Crossing Jordan and The Apprentice. In '08 it was some specials and eventually a lot of Law & Order: SVU repeats. For '09, some miniseries in the early winter and then another run for Donald Trump's resurgent franchise, this time a Celebrity Apprentice which averaged a pretty consistent 3.2 demo across its two-month run.

Cable Notables: The third season of AMC's Emmy-winning drama Mad Men is not much of a ratings threat but will air well into the fall thanks to a late start this season. Showtime offers third-year comedy Californication, while E! has a cavalcade of reality originals across the fall including Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami, Reality Hell, The Girls Next Door, and The Lamas Family which should attract a little demo interest.

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