FX has scored seesawing primetime ratings for its gritty original series The Shield, but the network has seen the number of sponsor defections grow over the past week.
Published reports indicated that at least eight advertisers had pulled out of the cop show in recent weeks, including defections last week by New Balance Athletic Shoes Inc., Office Depot Inc. and Tricon Global Restaurants Inc., which owns the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell fast-food chains.
FX spokesman John Solberg said, "I don't think it's that many. It's not some mass exodus."
He stated that one company cited in the reports, Anheuser-Busch Inc., was "reviewing on an episode-by-episode basis" and that another, Deere & Co. (manufacturer of John Deere equipment) had never bought the show.
Solberg indicated the dropout number was closer to five and said that they've been "replaced times two" by 11 other advertisers thus far.
He declined to divulge the replacements' categories, but said that they were not buying at lower ad rates. In fact, he said, The Shield
is 75-percent sold for its 13-week inaugural season, which concludes in June.
STARTED ON A HIGH
The Shield— which bowed March 12 with a 4.1 household rating, the highest-ever for an original basic-cable series — centers on the sometimes illegal escapades of Det. Vic Mackey (played by Michael Chiklis) and his strike team.
The April 9 episode was seen by 3.7 million viewers (a 3.0 rating), 96 percent of whom were aged 18 and older, FX reported. The network's target audience is adults 18 to 49, and 72 percent of that episode's viewers fell into that category, Solberg said.
The first few episodes of The Shield
included oral sex, Chiklis's character fatally shooting a fellow cop, nudity, profanity and sexual epithets. Last week, the series showed two men kissing.
The language and depictions raised the hackles of the TV watchdog group Parents Television Council, which has been pressuring sponsors to quit the series.
Solberg said the series is admittedly "coarse," but FX has "programmed responsibly [by scheduling it at 10 p.m.] and has informed viewers of its content with audio and video 'viewer discretion' advisories at the start of each show and coming out of each commercial break."
Discovery Networks U.S. executive vice president of ad sales Bill McGowan, speaking at the programmer's upfront press briefing last Wednesday, said, "Advertisers are very, very concerned about the environment on television … [and] squeamish about controversial programming."
He said that some cable networks would have "a tough time getting revenues" from programs like The Shield
and MTV: Music Television's profanity-laced The Osbournes, another entry that pushes the censorship envelope.
But the MTV ratings phenomenon continues to build audience, posting a 5.2 household rating this Tuesday, up from a 4.4 last week, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The series about America's favorite dysfunctional rock-star family was a ratings hit in its target demographic — ages 12 to 34 — scoring a 6.8, up from 5.5 last week.
Last week Judy McGrath, president of the MTV Networks Music Group, confirmed that MTV ordered a second season of The Osbournes.
Ozzy Osbourne's upcoming tour won't forestall doing a second season of the show, McGrath said. "We may do some of it on the road with him," she said. "We'll figure it out."