TNT hopes to finish the year on a strong ratings note with the launch of its newest series, Men of a Certain Age, while the network looks ahead to a 2010 lineup that will feature seven original drama series.
But while the network houses the most-watched original series on cable in The Closer, which drew more than 8 million viewers this summer, TNT still finds itself looking up at chief rival USA Network on the ratings front. Michael Wright, executive vice president and head of programming for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies, said the network’s mix of veteran shows and new series will keep it within basic cable’s upper echelon.
Through the first 11 months of the year, TNT has averaged 2.2 million viewers in primetime, 1 million viewers behind industry leader USA. The “Characters Welcome” network this summer rode the coattails of several strong series, including Burn Notice — which came in a close second to The Closer — and Royal Pains, the most-watched new series of the year.
“It’s both frustrating and motivating to have people ahead of us — we’re trying to chase down others who are doing this,” Wright said. “At the same time, I love our programming, and I view it as our task to keep introducing that programming to more viewers and to keep growing it.”
TNT’s lineup certainly held its own this year, with sophomore series Leverage (4.5 million viewers) and freshman breakout shows HawthoRNe (4 million viewers) and Dark Blue (3.3 million viewers) among 2009’s top performers. Leverage, which stars Timothy Hutton, as well as the Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle HawthoRNe will return to TNT next year, as well as veteran series The Closer and Saving Grace.
TNT is expected to announce the renewal of its freshman drama series Dark Blue within the next few weeks.
But not everything was a performance slam dunk for TNT. The network last month cancelled Raising the Bar, its sophomore legal series. While the Steven Bochco-produced show averaged 4 million viewers this past summer — up from 3.6 million during its freshman run — Wright said it was done in by its inability to retain more than 50% of the audience from its lead-in, The Closer.
TNT has yet to rename a replacement for Raising the Bar, but will most likely choose from three pilots currently in development: an untitled series based on a author Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli mystery novels; Delta Blues, a quirky detective drama from George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions; and an untitled Steven Spielberg-produced alien invasion project.
Also, the network will say goodbye to the Emmy-nominated series Saving Grace next summer after four seasons on the network. Grace, starring Holly Hunter as an Oklahoma City police detective, averaged 4 million viewers last summer. “We were very happy with the show creatively and happy with its ratings, but it’s not returning after its fourth season for business reasons,” Wright said.
As for its new series Men of a Certain Age (see Review, this page), Wright would not project how the series would perform but expressed confidence it would do well during the competitive winter months. Unlike the more action-based and gritty dramas that air during the summer, such as The Closer and Dark Blue, Wright said Men of a Certain Age — which stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher as longtime friends — has a lighter, more comedic feel that he believes will work well that time of year.
If successful, it will also join the extensive TNT lineup next year, according to Wright.
“In 2010, those six or seven shows feels like the right percentage of the portfolio on the network that also does extraordinarily well with sports franchises and movie franchises and acquired series,” Wright said. “It’s less about growing and more about fine tuning and being able to finesse the schedule and build it and look at adding a show or replacing a show rather than growing exponentially.”