Miércoles 25 de Octubre de 2006, Ip nº 176

New TV shows getting praise, but not viewers
Por Suzanne C. Ryan

The shows are good, but so far the audiences aren't there for the highly touted new additions to the fall TV schedule.

Tonight, on the most popular night of television, almost 50 million people will likely tune into something more familiar: ``Grey's Anatomy" and ``CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

The two series have been battling for first place in the ratings over the last three weeks. Ranking just behind them are the returning series ``Desperate Housewives," ``Dancing With the Stars," and ``CSI: Miami."

Missing in action are the freshmen programs. ABC's comedy ``Ugly Betty" ranks number 14 among all shows with an average of 15.3 million viewers. CBS's ``Shark" is averaging 14.5 million viewers ( No. 19) and ABC's ``Brothers & Sisters" is drawing 14.2 million ( No. 22).

But CBS has already killed off ``Smith," the heist drama starring Ray Liotta, and NBC's ``Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," featuring a marquee cast and the imprimatur of writer-producer Aaron Sorkin, has lost audience each week it's been on.

Of course, it's early to get a complete read on how audiences will respond to TV series. This time last year, ABC's ``Commander in Chief" seemed an out-of-the-box hit, ranked No. 8 with an average of 16.7 million viewers. ABC's ``Invasion" and CBS's ``Out of Practice" drew substantial audiences, too. None of those shows survived the season.

Observers have plenty of theories on what's hampering the latest crop of programs, which critics have praised for their intricate plots, strong casts, and movie-worthy production values.

``When it comes to television, viewers are looking for characters they want to be with," argues Tim Brooks, co author of ``The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present." `` You are inviting people into your home and you want to like them . . . You look at `Smith' and say, `I don't want to be with him.' `Studio 60' is on another planet. It's too slick, too us vs. you."

Lawrence Lichty, a professor of radio/television/film at Northwestern University, maintains that traditional medical shows and police procedurals with strong characters and sexy storylines have always topped the competition.

``It used to be `ER,' `St. Elsewhere,' and `Dragnet,'" he said. ``Those are proven formulas. `Ugly Betty?' Maybe I'm too old. It strikes me as an ABC after-school movie plot."

Janet Hull, a homemaker in Hanover, tried to sample some of the new shows but she couldn't keep up with the schedule. ``I missed the premiere of [CBS's nuclear attack survival story] `Jericho.' I missed the premiere of `Ugly Betty.' This season, it's almost overwhelming. There's an awful lot on. I may have to just wait for the reruns."

There's no question that new series traditionally take time to find an audience. But in an era when broadcast television faces relentless competition from cable and the Internet, not every program will be given that time.

NBC pushed its Wednesday night thriller ``Kidnapped" to Saturday night -- a TV dead zone -- after three episodes. Fox moved Monday night's ``Vanished" to Friday . ABC is pushing back the start of the comedy ``The Knights of Prosperity," possibly until January, a less competitive launch period.

``Grey's Anatomy," in contrast, is thriving in its third season. ABC took a huge chance shifting the show from a plum Sunday time slot following ``Desperate Housewives" to face off with ``CSI" on Thursdays this fall. Now the top show on television, ``Grey's Anatomy" has averaged 23.9 million viewers, the majority of whom are female and between 18 and 49.

``CSI," which had held TV's top spot since 2001, has averaged 22.9 million viewers, a large percentage of whom are male and between 25 and 54.

What's surprising is that both shows are broadcast in the same time period: Thursday at 9 p.m.

CBS contends that it's unfair to compare ``CSI" and ``Grey's Anatomy" now because the Major League Baseball playoffs on Fox are drawing away male viewers from ``CSI."

Says Jeremy Murphy, who tracks ratings for CBS, ``When not up against baseball, `CSI' would be the number one show."

ABC's Jeff Lindsey, the network's vice president in charge of ratings, sees it differently.

``Conventional wisdom says the shows would eat away at each other's audiences, but in reality, they've brought a range of viewers to Thursday nights," he says.

``It's amazing that the two biggest programs on television can thrive in the same time period."

  12/10/2006. Boston.com.