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TV Looking Glass: The Tuesday Night Death Slot

How good shows are being killed by bad programming choices

Unlike the 8 oclock time slot which seems to allow for the success of multiple prime-time television shows, the 10 oclock time slot on Tuesday nights seems to be a death slot - - meaning it is mutual-assured-destruction (M.A.D.) for just about any show unlucky enough to be broadcast at that time.

Saturday nights are generally known as dead nights, and prime-time television series have not been programmed on Saturday nights since the late 1990s. Alas, the weekend curse seems to have spread to Friday nights, and now it is notoriously known as a TV show killer night. Only shows sent to certain death are broadcast on Friday nights. Good examples are Smallville, Supernatural and Medium, which are all in the midst of what is thought to be their final seasons. Fridays are also good for shows with an uncertain fan base such as The Good Guys -- it allows it time to develop an audience kind of under the radar. Fridays also used to be known as sci-fi Fridays which changed to Syfy Fridays after the network changed its name.

However, in an attempt to capitalize on one of the most sought-after nights in television, programmers and studios have been jostling to find a way to get their most prized shows put on the prime-time schedule for Tuesday nights.

This has led to Tuesday nights being jam-packed with way too many competing shows. While the 8 oclock time slot seems to be holding its own and able to provide ample audiences for its shows (NCIS is pulling in 20 million viewers, Glee is getting 12 million viewers and No Ordinary Family is drawing 7 million viewers), the 10 oclock hour is just hemorrhaging viewers.

Sure The Good Wife averages 12 million viewers, but even it has dipped from its 13.7 average. Shows like Parenthood and Detroit 1-8-7 are treading water. Detroit 1-8-7 started at 9.7 million and dropped to 8.4 million viewers. Unfortunately, Parenthood lost nearly half its audience in its second season dropping from 8 million to only 4.6 million viewers.

The more alarming drops come from the smaller networks. Syfy and USA Network have dabbled with moving their best shows onto Tuesday nights. Syfy moved both Stargate Universe and Caprica from Fridays to Tuesdays. USA Network moved White Collar to Tuesdays and launched its new series Covert Affairs on Tuesdays as well. It was hard enough during the summer months as shows like Warehouse 13 faced off against White Collar. But now that the fall season is in full swing, to have such shows as Caprica up against The Good Wife, Parenthood and Detroit 1-8-7 is an unfair competition.

Watching Stargate Universe compete with NCIS: Los Angeles is painful enough. Both are seeking to draw the adrenaline-junkie male audience and is splitting their key demographic. It is enough to make you wonder if programmers are even thinking about how the competition may erode their core fan base. Based on programming decisions like this one, it feels doubtful.

So how are shows that pull in a modest 1.5 million viewers supposed to compete with shows that pull in 8 to 10 times that number of viewers? Syfy would have you believe that they are confident that their devoted fan bases would follow their shows. Yet, television viewing is a fickle thing. Fans who loved watching such dark sci-fi shows on Friday nights are not as likely to watch on Tuesday nights. Why? Because they are too dark. It is only AFTER one has survived the brutal work week that one can let down their guard and enjoy such intense sci-fi dramas. What viewers want on Tuesday nights versus Friday nights is vastly different. Shows like White Collar and Warehouse 13 successfully made the transition to Tuesday nights because they were lighthearted, fun fare. But taking darker dramas and moving them earlier in the week does not always work.

One good example of this, prior to Syfy's strategic move to Tuesdays with its biggest sci-fi shows, is "Justified." FX's plan to launch the new series starring Timothy Olyphant as a renegade U.S. Marshall was well chosen. They launched their show mid season and did not seek to compete with any of the 10 o'clock shows on Tuesdays. Its main competition was "The Good Wife" which caters more to a female audience. So "Justified" was carefully placed to draw the male audience and did just fine.

So why has the move of "Stargate Universe" and "Caprica" been so disastrous? As noted above, pitting "Stargate Universe" against "NCIS: Los Angeles" was not well thought out as they are competing for the same male audience in the same time slot.

As for "Caprica," it was always more of wild-card. It had enough sci-fi to draw the male viewers, but never enough action to really keep them. Its slow paced, laborious study of a mad scientist seeking to create his Frankenstein who tangles with a notorious criminal element and skirts shy of a terrorist organization did not really amount to a fast paced, thrilling adventure ride. It was a "thinking" series without a clear-cut hero. Its ambiguity made it hard to sell and draw viewers -- let alone sustain them.

Shows like "Stargate Universe" and "Caprica" are not really Tuesday night shows. They require too much introspective thought and the viewers' patience with deep, complex serialized stories. Those kinds of stories are better told when a viewer is not stressing about the remaining three days of the work week and debating whether they would be better off recording these shows for viewing at their leisure -- like a Friday or Saturday night.

Tuesday nights are good nights for less serialized shows that are easy to jump in and out of. For example, "Glee" or "No Ordinary Family" or "Raising Hope." All off these shows have serialized elements, but offer easy to follow, lightweight B-stories with and an A-story that wraps up neatly each episode. These are the "feel good" shows. Viewers feel good watching them and do not stress that they may be missing something if they are cooking dinner or doing homework while watching television.

Finally, while 10 o'clock shows are allowed to be more serialized and darker, that is only if the audience is willing to tolerate it. Women will tune into "The Good Wife" because they want to see how the love triangle between Alicia Florrick, Peter Florrick and Will Gardner is progressing and if there are any more hints about Kalinda. The show offers an easy to follow legal dilemma each episode with tantalizing bits about the ongoing romantic relationships and clues to the various office mysteries. It is like following the breadcrumbs to the gingerbread house. Easy, charming and not too stressful. "Justified" offers a similar hook with a bit of a love triangle, easy to follow law cases and lots of juicy clues. Then "Detroit 1-8-7" is simply capitalizing on the successful formula created by all the "CSI" and "Law & Order" knockoffs.

But moving well-established dark, complex sci-fi shows to Tuesday nights, that's just asking to invoke the curse of the Tuesday night death slot. As already seen, "Caprica" did not survive the move to Tuesdays and was killed off quickly. It still remains to be seen if "Stargate Universe" can hold its own. It still is not pulling in the same number of viewers that it drew on Friday nights, but perhaps the programming gods will:

A. Move it safely out of harm's way.
B. Grant it a reprieve, understanding the handicap they placed on it.

As for shows like "Parenthood," which is hanging on by a mere thread due to its significant loss of viewers, it is time to pray for a last minute stay of execution. It is caught squarely in the crosshairs of the Tuesday night death slot curse.

It is time for network programmers to realize that what viewers want on one night of the week, will not translate to another night of the week. Would "Grey's Anatomy" draw as many viewers if it were on Tuesdays at 10 o'clock? Probably not. It would be competing for the same audience as "The Good Wife," and both would fall as casualties of mutually-assured-destruction.

So why are schedulers moving or scheduling their best shows up against shows that will nearly guarantee their show being cutdown by immediate viewer erosion? Are they only seeing the dollar signs of a more lucrative night of advertising? Surely Tuesday ads sell higher than Friday night ads. In which case, they are looking at the wrong piece of the programming puzzle. It is not about higher advertising dollars, but whether or not their key show will be killed off in the process. For what does a network gain if they make an extra million, but lose a multimillion-dollar generating show?

Greed never wins out if it kills the golden goose. Let us not see more worthy television shows fall prey to the Tuesday night death slot.

About the Author

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer for Inside Blip, writing the column 'The TV Watchtower' and lives in Los Angeles. She loves science fiction and is addicted to sci-fi films and television shows and attends as many conventions as her busy work schedule will allow.
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