Salad Days

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"Like sands through an hour glass, so go the Days of Our Lives."

The introduction to the long-running NBC soap opera works as a metaphor for much of daytime television these days.

Shifting social and economic patterns over the past 10 to 15 years have created a new television audience during the day.

"Sure, there are a still lot of housewives and the elderly at home during the day," said Tim Brooks, senior vice president of research at Lifetime Television and a TV historian. "But there are a lot of adults 18 to 34, college kids and young adults who have yet to settle into their careers. There are part-time workers and telecommuters.

"Teachers are home during the summer, and mothers with young kids can catch an hour here or there, when they are not picking their kids up from school."

Steve Koonin, executive vice president and general manager of Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation — which ranks first among adults 18 to 49 from 4 to 8 p.m. with its comedy block — also sees a shift.

"Late afternoon and early fringe works really well for us," he said. "There are a lot of the so-called pink-collar set: secretaries, assistants who get out of work at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. These young people come home, relax with TV before getting ready to go out in the evening."

That reconfigured landscape has paved the way for cable to grab daytime audiences long trained on soaps, talk shows and other syndicated fare.

And there seems to have been a retreat over the past couple of years from all the attention drawn by the salacious scenarios depicted on programs like The Jerry Springer Show.

"We're not diving to that creative bottom," said Discovery general manager Clark Bunting. "Hopefully, that's reached its nadir."

Stepping into the void: More informational, instructional and aspirational shows. These kinds of programs — strengths for cable — are leaving their imprimatur on the daypart and the Nielsens.

"Daytime on cable hearkens back to TV's earliest days, when networks experimented with shows about the homes, beauty and household tips," said Robert Thompson, professor of media studies at Syracuse University. "Seeds planted then have sprouted in a more robust way on cable networks today."

Overall, the industry continues to take daytime ratings strides. During the period from Sept. 23, 2002 through Aug. 24, 2003, ad-supported cable racked up a 9% gain in average household delivery, to 15.3 million, during weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

That's up from 14.1 million the year before that.

Over the same span, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC saw their collective delivery decline 0.5%, to 11.2 million households from 11.3 million.

Ad-supported cable also posted a 6.3% increase in late afternoon into early fringe, averaging 21.5 million households weekdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., versus 20.2 million in the 2001-02 TV season.

The four broadcast networks registered a 1.4% gain, to 20.6 million households from 20.3 million.

Cable's calling card is its diversity. Kids have plenty of choices from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel, while their older siblings can switch on MTV: Music Television.

Many adults have turned to familiar faces, watching off-network dramas and comedies on such services as USA Network, Lifetime, TBS and TNT. Kids-targeted nets aside, TNT's "primetime in daytime" lineup of high-profile and expensive off-network shows like ER, Charmed, Judging Amy
and Angel
scored an industry-best 0.9 household average during the third quarter, according to Nielsen.

But other networks are attracting viewers with original programs and diverse scheduling strategies.

Starting last year, Home & Garden Televison began stripping some of its more female-skewing, story-driven primetime series in daytime as well.

Vice president of programming Michael Dingley explained that in the morning, HGTV viewers are more interested in ideas they can act upon in the form of how-to or crafts shows.

By the time afternoon rolls around, the audience prefers to take away "more of the inspiration and aspiration," rather than the step-by-step instructions.

As such, primetime series like Design on a Dime
and Divine Design
are also doing afternoon duty, at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

For the immediate future, HGTV's daytime will continue to draw from its primetime roster, but the net is developing shows and specials specifically for the daypart. Dingley said the programming would begin to hit the airwaves in the second quarter of 2004.

Cooking good

If home and garden enthusiasts are more inclined to aspirational pursuits in the afternoon, food aficionados are apparently looking for how-to instruction as they get ready to prepare the evening's meal.

At least that's part of the thinking behind a move made by Food Network, HGTV's Scripps Networks sister service, last spring. It slated its "In The Kitchen" programming block to weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The block —The Essence of Emeril, Molto Mario, Everyday Italian, Barefoot Contessa, 30-Minute Meals, From Martha's Kitchen, Sara's Secrets
and Tyler's Ultimate — cooked up a 36% gain in household ratings in the third quarter. It also produced a 29% increase among adults 25 to 54 and a 23% improvement among adults 18 to 49.

Airing at 6 p.m., 30-Minute Meals, starring Rachel Ray, has been one of the block's strongest performers, ringing up a 67% jump in households and advances of 39% and 59% among adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, respectively.

"Rachel is a wonderful host who really resonates with her audience, as she shows viewers how to make wonderful meals in a short amount of time," general manager Brooke Johnson said. "She presents the information in a very useful, compelling way."

Food also has recipes for the "In The Kitchen" block on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. "These are different audiences that are available to us: Those who aren't working," said Johnson.

Weekend watching

Weekends are also the current home to original daytime fare from Lifetime. Over the years, Brooks said, Lifetime has run about 25% original fare, including talk, game and service shows, during weekdays. But the current weekday lineup includes The Nanny, Mad About You
and the popular The Golden Girls, as well as movies.

On Saturdays at 11:30 p.m., Lifetime is airing the second season of Speaking of Women's Health, which has doubled its ratings. Elsewhere, the network launched Head2Toe, a style and beauty series. Running at 12:30 p.m., it replaced the magazine show Lifetime Now.

Looking ahead, Brooks said if those shows continue to attract loyal followings and "build up more episodes they may be transplanted into daytime."

As Lifetime continues to attract women during the day, ABC Family established a solid toehold with girls, by launching a teen block from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. this past Memorial Day.

The block — melding acquired fare like Seventh Heaven
and the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen series So Little Time
and Two of a Kind
with original series Switched
and The Brendan Leonard Show
— produced big ratings spikes for the service in the third quarter. Figures rose 67% to a 1.0 average among teens 12 to 17 and made an 80% jump to a 1.8 among girls 12-17.

Starting on Oct. 6, ABC Family revamped the block, adding Sweet Valley High
and subbing out the male-skewing Leonard
at 5:30 p.m. for newcomer Knock First.

Teen makeovers

From Scout Productions, the producers of Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Knock First
brings a teen take on the room-makeover genre.

"We have real high hopes that Knock First
can be a breakout hit for us," said vice president of programming Robin Schwartz. Schwartz also believes that Switched, which airs at 5 p.m. and places participants from different parts of the country in the other's daily routine, will benefit from the six one-hour adult versions that began airing on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m.

Discovery Channel's daytime lineup also continues to evolve. Three years ago, the network began to make the transition from what Bunting called "pot, pan, hammer and nail" shows.

Now, Discovery proffers transformational programming. "Viewers want to see how the house looks, but they're also invested in the personalities that take them through the changes," he said.

The formula is evidently working. The network said its overall household ratings improved 18% in the third quarter, and increased 19% among women 18 to 49. With a pair of hours from noon to 2 p.m., Surprise by Design, featuring Robert Verdi and Rebecca Cole, is Discovery's leading daytime performer.

This fall, Discovery has added or will add several new series to its daytime lineup. Rally Round the House, which began Sept. 29 and is stripped from 11 a.m. to noon and then again from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., involves neighbors giving a homeowner's exterior or yard a makeover during a 36-hour span.

Starting on Oct. 20, Discovery will strip Double Agents
at 4 p.m. The show looks at the emotional roller coaster of buying a home, as prospective buyers and watchers get real-estate tips.

The following hour Discovery will premiere Second Opinion With Doctor Oz, featuring preeminent New York cardiologist Dr. Mehmet Oz, who opens viewers eyes to the inner workings of their bodies and shows ways to empower them to take charge of their health.

Defining lives

The day lineup has been a little more stable for TLC, which has been presenting series that encapsulate some defining moments —A Dating Story
(in its fifth season), A Wedding Story
(eighth) and A Baby Story
(sixth) — as well as a moment of alteration in A Makeover Story
(fourth).

There's interest from men, especially with tips from Dating
and Baby.

"Most won't tell, but there's a solid college male audience, looking for tips on Dating
and Baby," said Nancy Lavin, TLC vice president of production.

Male leanings aside, Lavin called Makeover
and Baby
workhorses of a lineup that registered solid gains with women 25 to 54, as well as the distaff 18-to-34 set.

On Sept. 29, TLC premiered Perfect Proposal, a 1:30 p.m. series centered on people who pop the question in unusual, or very romantic settings.

Second Chance
precedes Perfect Proposal
at 1 p.m. "This is the most daring thing we're doing in daytime, because we really don't know how people are going to react to the prospect of getting back together," said Lavin.

In addition to the new series, TLC has hired hosts for the first time, with Nikki Boyer leading Proposal
and Sabrina Soto now on board Dating
.

Stacking history

Deploying a "mirror" approach, The History Channel runs the same lineup from 8 p.m. to 2 p.m. and then repeats it again from 2 to 8 p.m. As part of that mix, History replays primetime staples like Modern Marvels, History's Mysteries, History Alive
and History Undercover.
Rather than stripping shows, History opts for themes on marathon days, with monikers such as "Military Mondays," "Time Machine Tuesdays," "All-American Wednesdays," "Tech Thursday" and "History's Mystery Fridays."

Vice president of programming Peter Gaffney said History believes this vertical strategy is "more effective" because viewers, if they're interested in the subject matter, will stay with the service the next hour, rather than asking them "to come back the same time the next day."

In addition to the aforementioned shows, the network also sprinkles in documentaries, specials and other long-form fare as appropriate to the day's subject.

"It allows us to utilize our inventory better," said Gaffney.

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