FAMILY AFFAIRS: Will NBC be No. 1 again this fall? Will network viewing continue to drop? Can supernerd Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) lead CBS to the demographic promised land of younger viewers? The answers are yes, yes, and, well, that’s the real debate.
Last February, much to ABC’s chagrin, CBS stole Family Matters to launch its own version of TGIF. Although Alphabet execs joked that after eight years Urkel was a better fit with CBS’ older audience, they actually wanted to keep the No. 41-ranked show — enough to offer Warner Bros. TV a whopping $1.5 million per episode. (That’s $500,000 less than what NBC currently pays for ER. Go figure.) But CBS topped ABC’s offer by $200,000 and later snagged fellow TGIF hit Step by Step for a lot less.
Why the big bucks? Because, while Urkel’s fans have diminished, Family was still winning its 8 p.m. slot and pulling young demos for ABC. On CBS (again on Fridays at 8 p.m.), the show will no doubt continue losing viewers, but winning isn’t essential; as long as the show makes a dent in ABC’s Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and attracts eyeballs in the 18-to-49-year-old range, CBS will be happy. ”We don’t have to hit a home run to be profitable,” says Kelly Kahl, VP of programming. ”We don’t plan on matching ABC’s performance, but we will get younger.”
More significant than ratings, however, will be the opportunity for CBS to advertise the rest of its lineup. ”Every time CBS has tried to get a younger audience, they lacked a promotion base,” says Steve Sternberg of BJK&E Media Group. ”Now they’ve got one and can expand to other nights.”
As for content changes, there’ll be a minor tweak. Jokes White: ”This year it’s going to be an all-white cast.”
AND SO ON… The season premiere of ABC’s The Practice will include Dylan McDermott’s character falling for a woman accused of murder; he doesn’t trust her because — as an inside joke in the script reveals — ”she once worked for a network.” Practice creator David E. Kelley is no fan of TV execs since his show got a graveyard time slot (Saturdays at 10 p.m.) for fall.