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Friday night fight is going to cable, but does it have to?

October 23, 2009 |  1:10 pm


Since it's Friday, we thought we'd take a look at Friday night television.

For years, Friday has been a tough night for the broadcast networks. If a show starts to do well on Friday, the first instinct is to move it to another night where the potential audience is bigger. CBS' "CSI" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" both started on Friday.

Conversely, when a show starts to fade it often ends up on Friday (ABC's "Ugly Betty") before disappearing entirely.

Over the past five years, the combined audience for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox on Friday nights has fallen about 15% to 22.2 million, and in the 18-49 demographic the drop is over 20% to about 8.2 million people. 

"We have consistently allowed our audience to leave us on Friday night just like we did on Saturday night," said Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Entertainment. "This is where cable took advantage of our weakness of not having as many hit shows."

UGLYBETTY Fortunately, for Gaspin, one of the cable networks that has managed to take the most advantage of Friday night is NBC Universal's USA Network, first with "Monk" and then with "Psych." Tonight USA will go for the threepeat with the premiere of its well-reviewed offbeat crime drama "White Collar."

"Friday is one great opportunity; broadcast networks don't put much effort into it," said Ted Linhart, USA's vice president of program research. It's his job to crunch numbers and figure out where the best chances for success lie. While it's true that the households using television (HUTs in industry lingo) is lower on Friday night, Linhart said, "There are still 100 million people watching TV."

And while USA tends to attract an adult crowd, there is youth to he had on the night too, as Disney Channel has proven with "High School Musical 2," "Hannah Montana" and "Wizards of Waverly Place."

Besides cable, video game play is on the rise on Fridays, and more people use the night to catch up on what they have recorded throughout the week.

Interestingly, this season Friday has not been a total disaster for the broadcast networks. CBS is flat in viewers while NBC and ABC are each up. But all three are down in adults 18-49, and Fox is completely tanking.

Not to get all field of dreams on the broadcast networks, but if you build it, they just might come.

-- Joe Flint

Photos: Top: USA's "White Collar." Credit: USA Network. Bottom: "Ugly Betty." Credit: David Giesbrecht / ABC