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Upfronts: The fight is on for Friday nights

May 18, 2010 | 12:54 pm


The networks want to turn the Friday-night lights back on.

NBC, Fox and ABC are all putting high-profile and expensive dramas on a night that in recent years has been just about forgotten by broadcast television executives.

At Fox, the network is moving its Wednesday-night action show "Human Target" to Friday and pairing it with "The Good Guys," a buddy-cop show that actually premieres this month. NBC will put its new legal drama "Outlaw," starring Jimmy Smits, who doesn't work cheap, on Friday night. ABC has a medical drama, "Body of Proof,” starring Dana Delany, also lined up for for Friday.

"We're going to reclaim Fridays," Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly declared to advertisers on Monday afternoon at the network's presentation of its fall schedule to advertisers.

In recent years, the networks have not aggressively tried to program Friday, and that lack of effort has been reflected in the ratings. So far this season, CBS is off 20% in both overall viewers and the coveted demographic of viewers ages 18 to 49. Fox is down 19% in viewers and 12% in the 18-49 game, and ABC is off 7% in viewers and 13% in the key demographic. NBC is actually up on Friday night, but that says more about how badly the network had been doing two years ago on that night than it does about what they're doing now.

Meanwhile, viewers have fled to cable. USA Network, in particular, has been able to benefit from the network's abandonment of Friday nights, using it to successfully launch "Burn Notice" and "White Collar."

Although the available audience is typically smaller on Friday night, hits have been born there, including CBS' "CSI" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" and Fox's "The X-Files." For years, ABC had a goldmine with its "TGIF" lineup of family-friendly shows.

"All the networks have to at least make an attempt to aggressively program Fridays," said Bill Carroll, a vice president at Katz Media, an industry consulting firm.

Part of the problem is that since the networks have not exactly made Friday a priority and viewers have responded by looking for entertainment elsewhere, producers are sometimes wary about having their shows on that night. Warner Bros. makes "Hard Target," an expensive show, and it is no doubt a little nervous about being put on Friday.

If the networks are going to try to make Friday something other than where shows go to die, they are going to have to start spending money to promote that night rather than treat it as an after thought. The networks also will have to take it slow with their Friday shows, and patience is not usually in the vocabulary of an entertainment president.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Fox's "Human Target" will face its greatest challenge: Jump starting Friday night.  Credit; David Gray/FOX/WBTV

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