Sunday, March 24, 2013

Republic under siege in move to Sundays

Doyle's leap to Sundays probably looked easier at the start of the season
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. CBC's Republic of Doyle was coming off its third and highest-rated season ever. Every single week last Winter and Spring, the Newfoundland-based cop drama pulled over a million total viewers. With high ratings and plenty of buzz with high profile guest stars such as Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, Doyle had become the network's tent pole drama.
The public broadcaster normally might have left well enough alone but, faced with steep budget cuts and with new holes in its schedule, some shuffling of deck chairs had to be done. The decision was made to move Doyle and its powerful lead-in, Dragon's Den, out of their comfortable mid-week perch to Sundays. The network was resting Battle of the Blades for a year and hoped to hold on to the million-plus base the reality series had established over three seasons on Sunday nights.
This was probably sold to star/executive producer Allan Hawco as a reward, a graduation to TV's most-watched night of the week, instead of what it really was--a kamikaze mission. Sunday at 9 p.m., always a tough slot, has quietly become TV's most fiercely competitive hour of the week, with the battle for viewers extending on multiple platforms. As the slogan for the season suggests  in the poster above, on Sundays this winter, "Trouble never takes a break."
The result: Republic of Doyle went from a guaranteed million-a-week hit to a series that opened in early January at an overnight tally of 802,000 and sank below the 600,000s.
The move was chancy even if it wasn't crazy competitive on Sundays. Here's what Doyle has had to deal with this season:
1. Every time you move a show, you immediately lose 20% of the audience. This has been true since Ed Sullivan owned Sunday nights. When you first tinker with a schedule, you confuse part of the audience. The same thing happened to Mr. D and Motive this season. The hope is it just takes a few weeks for them to find you again, and that more viewers follow.
2. It is important that you promote the hell out of the move on your highest-rated series with a similar audience. Here CBC ran into some bad luck: the prolonged hockey lockout wiped out three months of promotional opportunities before mainly male viewers. All those 2 million+ hockey fans on Saturday nights did not get the Doyle move memo. Hockey Night in Canada finally returned in Doyle's second week--too late to help with the season premiere.
Fear the Dead, too: Sunday's AMC game changer
3. Doyle walked straight into The Walking Dead. The AMC series has become the new Death Star. It draws 12 million-plus Sundays at 9 in the U.S., an unheard of Cable number. It does just as well if not better in Canada and was in the Top-10 among A18-49 of all TV series aired in Toronto last season. It is the monkey wrench thrown into what was once a dominant night of broadcast network television.
4. While the kids have switched over to Walking Dead, their parents are glued to Downton Abbey. The PBS phenomenon stole chunks of the 50+ demo away from Doyle. These are core CBC viewers, so that has an impact. CBC's only consolation is that Downton has such a short run.
5. The Netflix factor. The U.S. renegade content provider launched their original House of Cards in January, dumping all 13 episodes in one fell swoop. If you got hooked and decided to binge view it all that weekend, you were probably still watching Sunday night at 9 p.m. Thankfully for Doyle, the new season of Arrested Development comes right after Hawco's cop show packs it in for the season.
6. You don't want to be on Sundays in January and February unless your network has the Super Bowl, The Oscars or The Golden Globes. Being opposite TV's highest-rated events of the year is a one, two, three strikes you're out proposition. On Sunday, January 13--Doyle's second week--The Globes drew 3,409,000 in the overnights. Doyle did 720,000. The Super Bowl blew everything away Sunday, Feb. 3, with 6,568,000 in the overnights. CBC wisely rested Doyle that night. Oscar night, Feb. 24, CTV saw 6,065,000 overnight viewers. CBC and Doyle did 345,000 for what hopefully was a rerun. Which brings us to...
7. Don't move a series to Sundays in January because you'll run into too many preemptions. There are the weeks spent ducking the big guns like the Super Bowl. Beyond that, however, Doyle has been on hiatus all this month to accommodate Sunday showcases such as the new Canadian Screen Awards and figure skating championships. So you let your top drama get hammered in January and February and then you park it in March. This is how you kill a show, not grow it.
8. Doyle's once mighty lead-in, Dragon's Den, has taken a hit on Sundays too. At one point pulling in the 1.7 million viewers a week range, Den now occasionally dips below the million mark. The departure of two popular dragons may be a factor, as is the weekly double-pump.
The Dead, The Bible (above)--Doyle must fight them all
9. Sunday night is an all out specialty assault in Canada. Since Doyle's season premiere, History has launched The Bible (opening at over a million overnight viewers), Slice added Big Brother Canada and Discovery and Showcase are factors, too.
10. Sunday has become a big sports night. TSN and Sportsnet often program NHL hockey and now March madness basketball opposite Doyle. When the Blue Jays start swinging in a week, look out.
To be fair to CBC, there are no safe nights on television any more. Moving Doyle away from, say, American Idol, is not the mercy play it was a few years ago, however. Mercer has to contend with Global's big night of NCIS, for example, and remains a steady draw into a 10th season. 22 Minutes has had a strong 20th season on Tuesdays.
This Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET (9:30 NT), Doyle returns with a fresh episode. There's a cool story arc coming up in April featuring Canadian stars Gordon Pinsent and Paul Gross. Jake Doyle will get in fist fights and bad guys will be caught. There's the usual tough competition--new episodes of Revenge, Family Guy, Good Wife, Apprentice, Lost Girl, The Bible and, of course, The Walking Dead--but no Oscars at least.
Given everything that's been thrown at it, it is remarkable that so much of the core audience has remained with the series. CBC needs to re-think their programming strategy, however, to build the audience back up heading into a fifth season.
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