Is “Cops” — Fox’s low-budget celebration of car chases, naughty-word obfuscation and private-part pixelation — about to meet the same sad fate as its former Saturday companion, “America’s Most Wanted”?
Fox announced Monday that it will jam its Saturday nights with about 100 hours of Major League Baseball, college football, the NFL, NASCAR and UFC programming through December. That leaves, as best we can tell, about 10 Saturdays available to “Cops” for the calendar year.
TV industry navel-lint pickers see it as the death knell for the Fox staple. Fox reps, however, insist that the order for “Cops” next season will only be slightly smaller than this season’s 22 episodes.
Here’s a good place to note that this season’s 22-episode order is a pale shadow of the 46 episodes that Fox ordered for “Cops’s” sixth season. As recently as four seasons ago, it wasn’t unheard of for Fox to order at least 36 episodes.
Adding weight to the forecast of those lint pickers, Fox says “Cops” will not be rescheduled on another night. This suggests that all the episodes ordered next season will have to air on Saturdays in the calendar year 2013. (A broadcast TV “season” runs from mid-September through late May.)
But in Monday’s announcement, Eric Shanks, the Fox Sports Media Group co-president and chief operating officer, says that Fox Sports sees Saturday nights “as the perfect home for quality sports programming, especially in spring and fall.” Which presumably means that spring and fall of 2013 are out for “Cops.” Which leaves “Cops” with what? Mid- to late December, January and the dog days of summer?
Shanks insists that Fox Sports has been working “hand in hand” with the Fox entertainment division on this plan to pack Saturdays with sports — which, Shanks says, “gives us a consistent Saturday-night franchise for the first time ever.”
Actually, Fox had two consistent Saturday-night franchises for ages. One was called “Cops,” which is in its 24th season as we write, and the other was “America’s Most Wanted,” which lasted for 25 seasons.
This past Saturday, “Cops,” was the No. 1-ranked broadcast program among 18- to 34-year-old viewers. It averaged 3.3 million viewers of all ages, behind only the first hour of ABC’s bajillionth rerun of the Charlton Heston flick “The Ten Commandments” (5.9 million viewers).
The problem with “Cops,” and “AMW” on Fox is that they skew “downscale,” as the industry calls it. That translates to viewers “of less interest to advertisers,” which, in turn, translates to “lower rate paid per thousand pairs of eyeballs watching” (cost per mille).
In unveiling its plan for this TV season to advertisers, Fox suits announced in May that they had canceled “America’s Most Wanted” as a weekly series, explaining that in today’s world, a broadcast TV network needed one night of Rerun Theatre — and that, like other broadcasters, Fox had elected Saturday for the honor. Fox, however, had ordered quarterly two-hour specials of the show, in which host John Walsh would continue to profile “dirtbags” on the lam.
“AMW” as a series was allowed to migrate to Lifetime network, where it’s generating about 3 million viewers a week for the cable network, and where it’s been picked up for a second season.
But when Fox unveils next season’s schedule to advertisers next month, no more “AMW” quarterly specials will be mentioned.
Armed with Sarah Palin, Ryan Seacrest, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Tori Spelling, Octomom and a “surprise legend,” NBC’s “Today” show last week successfully swatted off intense Katie Couric competition from ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Friday’s ratings confirm.
Bloodied but victorious, “Today” emerged with its more than 16-year winning streak intact as the weekly ratings champ among morning infotainment shows.
Only about 25,000 viewers separated “Today” (4.719 million viewers) and “GMA” (4.694 million) Friday, according to early stats issued Monday afternoon.
For the week, “Today” averaged 5.109 million viewers to “GMA’s” 4.899 million. Just 210,000 viewers separated the two shows — although that was actually bigger than the previous week’s gap of 119,000 viewers.
But as ABC noted Monday, “GMA’s” crowd grew 2 percent compared with the same week last year. “Today’s” audience fell 5 percent.
Friday was the day that “Today” anchor-in-chief Matt Lauer made his big announcement: He’s sticking with the show for a few more years. (According to sources, it will cost NBC close to $30 million a year to hang on to Lauer, which puts him in the neighborhood of Charlie Sheen’s salary on his final season of “Two and a Half Men.”)
After “GMA” announced that it had booked former “Today” sweetheart Couric to fill in for co-anchor Robin Roberts all week, “Today” came up with its own boffo bookings.
On Monday, a promised “surprise legend” turned out just to be NBC News staffer Meredith Vieira, visiting her old stamping grounds to announce that she’d join them in covering the Summer Olympics in London.
On Tuesday, Palin “guest-hosted” one hour of the show to weigh in on Oprah Winfrey, Spelling’s mini cupcakes, the GOP presidential hopefuls, Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy weight gain and other heady matters.
On Wednesday, Seacrest visited Lauer to tell him that the “American Idol” host on Fox had joined the NBC “family”; Seacrest also said that his first assignment would be the Summer Games coverage and asked how much longer Lauer planned to stick around. Plus, Kardashian stopped by to look hot and play innocent, and Minaj performed — although it was nowhere near as compelling as her Grammy Awards self-exorcism number. (Couric beat “Today” that day — her only daily win last week.)
On Thursday, Octomom visited “Today” to discuss the country’s welfare program and her topless photo shoot.
For next season, Fox has picked up its freshman Zooey Deschanel chick-com, “New Girl”; Ryan Murphy’s three-season-old high school musical, “Glee”; and Greg Garcia’s sophomore family comedy, “Raising Hope” — as the network continues to build a four-comedy block on Tuesday nights.
Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly described them thusly in Monday’s announcement:
●“New Girl.” Reilly called it “the hottest new appointment series for young adults.” We call it a comedy series that launched with about 10 million watching and is now averaging 8.3 million viewers this season. It tied for No. 3 among all new programs with the 18- to 49-year-old viewers who are the currency of broadcast TV. (CBS’s “2 Broke Girls” is ranked No. 1; Fox’s “The X Factor” Wednesday edition is ranked No. 2; “New Girl” is tied with “The X Factor” Thursday edition and ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” for the third slot.)
●“Raising Hope.” Reilly called it “one of the smartest and most unique offbeat comedies.” We call it down 19 percent, year to year, with an average of 5.6 million viewers, and down 10 percent among those 18- to 49-year-olds.
●“Glee.” Reilly called it “a genre-defying global cultural phenomenon.” We call it a series that averaged 10.2 million viewers last season and is averaging just 8.9 million this season. It ranks No. 49 among all broadcast shows and 22nd among 18- to 49-year-olds, which is down 7 percent year to year. “Glee’s” season performance is being inflated by many more hiatuses than it has had in previous seasons; this year’s airings are 18, compared with 26 at the same point last season, which means fewer reruns.
Things didn’t go so well for Fox’s other comedies. “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” you’ll recall, was recently pulled from the schedule, and its remaining episodes shipped off to Summer Burn-off Theatre.
Meanwhile, “Breaking In” looks as though it’s destined to become That Fox Sitcom That Got Canceled Twice, after first being canceled when it was a break-in caper starring Christian Slater, only to be plucked from the dead and turned into a workplace comedy with Megan Mullally joining Slater.
Would that mean Slater has starred in three failed broadcast TV series since 2008, or four?
To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/ tvcolumn.