Fall’s Not So Frightening for Cable Nets Anymore

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AMC on Sunday (Nov. 6) launched
Hell on Wheels — its new, highly touted original
series — hoping to maintain the monster
audience from zombie drama The Walking
, which has averaged nearly 6 million
viewers for each of the first three weeks of its
sophomore season.

Such a programing strategy would be
common in the summer months of June or
July, when basic-cable networks have typically
unveiled their best and brightest shows
against their broadcast competitors’ unimpressive
roster of repeats and reality shows.

But Hell on Wheels will launch in the midst
of Nielsen’s November sweeps period, when
broadcasters trot out their top shows in an
effort to impress advertisers.


And AMC isn’t alone. At least 25 cable networks plan to
launch new series and specials, or debut new episodes of
established shows, against the best programming from
the broadcast networks during the sweeps period of Oct.
31 to Nov. 27. Such a strategy was unheard of just five
years ago.

With November drawing some of the highest monthly
audience shares of the year — and with cable programming
building a more loyal viewer base — the sweeps are
no longer off limits to new cable programming.

“We don’t see it as a cable-vs.-broadcast November anymore;
cable’s no longer afraid of broadcast,” Tom Halleen,
AMC’s senior vice president of programming and scheduling,
said. “To the consumers, there’s not much of a distinction

Indeed, cable networks are taking broadcast’s top shows
head-on with their best content. On Thursdays, WE tv will
put breakout hit Braxton Family Values against new episodes
of ABC veteran Grey’s Anatomy. On Wednesday
nights, Bravo’s cooking-competition show Top Chef will
look to carve up such rivals as hourlong dramas CSI: Crime
Scene Investigation (
CBS), Law & Order: Special Victims
(NBC) and Revenge (ABC).

One reason for cable’s confidence is that its audience
share for November has grown consistently over the past
decade. In 2000, the broadcast networks’ 47 share of total
viewers age 2-plus dwarfed cable’s 29 share, but over the
past three years, cable has overtaken the broadcast networks
(see chart). Last year, cable garnered a 46 share of
total viewers compared to a 38 share — an all-time low —
for broadcasters.

Another factor: As cable networks expand their original
programming offerings, it’s necessary to move beyond
the traditional summertime launches and introduce new
shows throughout the year.

“We’re not afraid of the fall anymore,” Bill McGoldrick,
senior vice president of original scripted programming for
USA Network, said. “I think it’s a product of our growth —
we’ve run out of real estate in the summer, and you really
need other places to go.”

USA for the first time last week debuted new episodes of
established series in November, with sophomore drama
series Covert Affairs and veteran spy-themed series Burn
. McGoldrick said he’s not concerned
viewership for either series will see a major
fall-off during an ultra-competitive November
month, because both have established
loyal fans likely to follow the shows to their
new scheduling destination.

“I think cable has become much more
competitive in general with broadcast —
I don’t think viewers are making the same
distinction anymore,” McGoldrick said. “I
think in a lot of ways, cable makes as much
noise as anybody else, and viewers are as
hungry for our shows to come back as they
are for new shows on broadcast — that’s really
the big difference.”

While USA is offering established shows
during the month, AMC’s Western-themed
Hell on Wheels will test the sweeps waters
as a freshman entry. The series, which stars
Anson Mount (Crossroads) as a former Confederate soldier
whose quest to avenge his wife’s death leads him to take
a job building the first transcontinental railroad, debuted
Sunday. AMC has high hopes that it will break through the
TV landscape clutter and draw viewers.


The network has some experience
in launching new shows
in the midst of the November
sweeps. The Walking Dead debuted
on Halloween last year
and finished its six-episode run
as the most watched cable series
ever among 18-to-49-yearold

Leading into Hell on Wheels
with The Walking Dead provides
a strong one-two punch
for the network on Sunday
nights, Halleen said.

“The fact of the matter is,
November is one of the most
viewed months of the year consistently,
and there’s a lot of
competition happening between
football and the influx
of new episodes and series
launches across both cable and
broadcast networks,” he said.
“Competition is high, but consumers
will find the product
that they want — we have to give them credit that they will seek
it out, so let’s put it on when they’re
most available.”

WE tv hopes its target audience
of women 18-49 will watch the second
season of Braxton Family Values
in the same numbers that made
the series the most watched in that
demo in network history. The reality
show, centered on R&B superstar
Toni Braxton and her four sisters,
drew 641,000 viewers during its April to June run earlier this year.

The network is so confident that
Braxton Family Values will perform
well in November, it is moving the
show to Tuesdays from Thursdays to
help create a new night of original
“We thought it made sense to
bring it back in November — we
know we’ll have high audience
viewership, and here is a show that
the audience is so excited about,”
WE tv general manager Kim Martin
said. “We’ve extended the number
of episodes — the original order was
13, and we recently just upped that
to 19 — which speaks to the confidence in the show and the time of
the year we’re kicking it off .”

Along with Braxton Family Values, Martin said, the network
will also bring popular bridal makeover series My
Fair Wedding
back in November, and launch the new wedding-
themed reality show I Do Over.

Not all cable networks are enamored with going head to
head against the broadcast networks during the November

TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies executive vice
president and head of programming Michael Wright
said the Turner services typically hold their new and
returning series premieres until December and early
January to avoid the marketplace clutter.

“I’m not that anxious to get into that September to
early November period — not that I don’t believe in our
programming, but it’s just too crowded a field,” he said.
“With all the broadcast premieres and the hundreds of
millions of dollars being spent to market all of that, it’s not
a place where you want to take a newborn and try to have
it thrive. I will let others charge that hill for now.”


TBS on Nov. 23 will launch a new comedy series from actor/
director Tyler Perry dubbed For Better or Worse, while
TNT will debut the second half of the fourth season of
drama series Leverage on Nov. 27, network representatives

For many cable networks, November is no longer a dead
zone for series launches, but rather another opportunity to
reach its core viewers with programming they want to see.

“We’re very aware of the landscape — we would be
crazy not to pay attention to what’s going on within the
bigger TV landscape,” Sundance Channel general manager
Sarah Barnett said. Her channel on Nov. 18 will roll
out the second-season debut of reality series Girls Who
Like Boys Who Like Boys
. “But to some extent, viewers
want their fix when they want it, so we don’t want to
make our audience wait.”