If any TV market illustrates how difficult it has been for a freshman or sophomore show to attract an audience after the 2007-08 writers' strike, it is the Buffalo market.
One might have thought the disappearance of WIVB-TV -- which carries popular CBS prime time shows -- from about half of the television households here would have translated into large audience increases for the programs carried on ABC, NBC and Fox affiliates.
It hasn't happened.
Since Channel 4 and its sister LIN Broadcasting station, WNLO (the CW affiliate), were bounced from Time Warner Cable systems in a carriage dispute, it has hurt CBS and the CW here much more than it has helped its competitors. Suprisingly, some CBS shows -- such as "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: New York" -- have even outpaced the competition here, despite being off cable.
In the first three weeks since Channel 4 disappeared from cable, its prime-time ratings declined 45 percent from the same three-year period a year ago. Keeping in mind that a ratings point equals 1 percent of area households, prime-time ratings for Channel 4 went from a 10.3 rating to a 5.7 rating. WNLO has declined by 56 percent, from a 2.5 average to a 1.1.
But the 6.0 rating points lost by the LIN stations -- equivalent to about 37,800 households -- aren't going to other stations.
WKBW (which carries ABC shows), and WGRZ (which carries NBC) saw their ratings decline by 14 percent. WUTV (which carries Fox shows) declined by 27 percent. The only broadcast station to see improvement was WNYO, the MyNetwork affiliate, which almost doubled its low ratings and moved ahead of WNLO. WNED, the local PBS affiliate, rose 46 percent and had prime-time ratings higher than WNLO and WNYO.
With the popular CBS shows off cable, only six prime-time series average double-digit ratings here. Collectively, the six competitors averaged 27.9 ratings points combined over the three weeks, compared with a 37.1 a year ago. Many of the viewers in this presidential year went to Fox News, (up 50 percent), MSNBC, (up 100 percent) and CNN (up 71 percent), which collectively gained almost 2 ratings points from a year ago..
Now let's take a quick look at how shows are doing here:
*Channel 2 (NBC affiliate): The cable absence of CBS and all that promotion during the Olympics hasn't helped NBC's anemic lineup of new shows get much sampling here.
"ER," which is one of the six shows getting a double-digit rating here in its final season, is NBC's highest-rated series here and gets almost double the ratings of all its new shows -- the laughless Thursday comedy, "Kath & Kim," "Knight Rider" (which NBC has renewed for a full season despite harsh reviews and sinking ratings), "Crusoe" and Christian Slater's new spy drama, "My Own Worst Enemy," which is the lowest-rated here. Even Channel 2's 10 p.m. news on WNLO (5.1) beat "Enemy" last week.
"Chuck" and "Heroes" are slipping from their low ratings of a year ago, and even old reliable "Law & Order: SVU" is down more than 40 percent. And things are bound to get worse if and when Channel 4 returns to cable. NBC shows, however, attract decent demographics.
Last Friday, NBC decided to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic. It announced it will move the sophomore series "Life" from Friday to 9 p.m. Wednesday on Nov. 5 before "Law & Order" returns at 10 p.m. "Lipstick Jungle" will move to 10 p.m. Friday this week, a time slot where shows usually go to die. Its mismatched lead-in, "Crusoe," won't help.
*Channel 4 (CBS): Despite being off cable, "The Mentalist" beat Fox's hot new show, "Fringe" for second place here last Tuesday behind the results show of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" (which is another double-digit winners). If Channel 4 were on Time Warner Cable, it probably would be No. 1.
"Worst Week," the new CBS comedy, beat "Heroes" here a week ago, but it is losing a large portion of its lead-in from the popular "Two and a Half Men." The new Jay Mohr comedy, "Gary Unmarried" is beating "Knight Rider" on some Wednesdays here. The new Thursday drama, "Eleventh Hour" was destroyed by ABC's "Life on Mars" on opening night here and is third in the time slot that includes "ER." "Hour" wins the slot nationally.
*Channel 7 (ABC): CBS' absence from half the market here led to double-digit sampling for the premieres of ABC's only new drama, the quirky "Life on Mars" and the sophomore return of "Eli Stone." The Sunday tandem of "Desperate Housewives" (another double-digit winner) and "Brothers & Sisters" still do well here, but not as well as last year.
"Dancing With the Stars" doesn't appear to be on its last legs. But it isn't anywhere near the hit it was here a few seasons ago. "Samantha Who," the charm-com starring Christina Applegate, wins its Monday time period with double-digit ratings thanks to the "Dancing" lead-in but has declined from a year ago. "Grey's Anatomy," which is testing boundaries with sexual innuendo, got a healthy double-digit rating here Thursday and trounced "CSI" (9.5), but it averages about a point lower than it did last year. Its spin-off, "Private Practice," has dropped 25 percent from its freshman year.
*Channel 29 (Fox): "House" remains a Tuesday hit. But its audience has slipped about 30 percent here in its earlier time period of 8 p.m., and it only averages in single digits now. "Fringe," which follows it, has done well here, though not anywhere near as well as "House" did in the time slot or as well as might be expected.
*Channel 23 (CW): Now that it is off cable, most of its shows aimed at younger viewers are being abandoned here. Last week "Gossip Girl" and "90210" averaged a .4 rating -- yes .4. When it comes to CW shows off cable in this old market, it is out of sight, out of mind.