After weeks of predominance by cable news outlets following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, viewers have taken refuge in more familiar and comforting fare.
Viewers have increasingly turned to vintage entertainment programming, perhaps to allay fears and uncertainties over the new U.S. war on terrorism. As a result, the ratings for networks like TV Land, Nick at Nite and Game Show Network have swelled over the last two months and show no signs of slowing down.
Ratings for Viacom Inc.'s TV Land jumped 33 percent in November, compared with the same period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research data; the retro network tallied a 0.8 primetime average. Only arts network Bravo experienced a greater year-to-year gain than TV Land during a month when most networks — including all of the news channels — were either flat or down from November 2000.
TV Land executive vice president and general manager Larry Jones attributed much of the network's ratings surge to a rekindled interest in such familiar fare as I Love Lucy, The Love Boat, Andy Griffith
and The Munsters
during the recent period of national uncertainty.
"Lucy, The Love Boat
and The Munsters
are pre-eminent shows for escapism, and audiences have flocked to them," Jones said. "One of the things that we said is that we provide an alternative and a comfortable place for people to go to."
But TV Land isn't the only cable network to benefit from viewers' need to escape. Sister service Nick at Nite — which features such classic sitcoms as Family Ties, Cheers,
the Brady Bunch
and Gilligan's Island
— saw its primetime ratings (defined by the network, which splits time with Nickelodeon, as 9 p.m. to midnight) jump 7 percent from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, said executives.
Game Show Network, which airs vintage shows such as The Gong Show
and Let's Make A Deal,
saw its primetime ratings spike up 10 percent in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"The public turned to Game Show Network as great escapist entertainment, while other channels were focused on the tragic events of Sept. 11," Game Show president Rich Cronin said.
Lifetime Entertainment Services vice president of research Tim Brooks said the nostalgia channels' viewership increases didn't necessarily hurt other networks overall. Instead, the gains came at the expense of less familiar series and specials on both cable and broadcast networks such as the Fox broadcast network espionage series 24.
"I think the common thread is the familiarity — people today are attracted to strong, quality programming that's familiar to them," Brooks said.
Even cable news-network executives, whose ratings flourished in the aftermath of Sept. 11, acknowledge the shift toward more viewer-pacifying entertainment shows. But many predict that eventually viewers will migrate back to reality — particularly as breaking news develops.
"If you look at the success [of CBS' Nov. 26 Carol Burnett & Friends
and Nov. 13 Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary
specials], there are some escapism trends among viewers," Fox News executive producer Bill Shine said. "But you can only go so far away from what's happening, and viewers are continuing to watch us to get the latest news."