In announcing the move of “Ugly Betty” to Friday nights next season, ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson talked about the “great opportunity” the network has to launch the new series “Flash Forward” on Thursdays.
Left unspoken in the discussion is one simple fact: The opportunity to launch a new show is there because “Ugly Betty” isn’t a hit anymore.
That’s not to say the show isn’t good anymore; it still pulls off a deft mix of comedy and soap opera more often than not. But its audience, which was in the neighborhood of 15 million people when it premiered three years ago, has been steadily tailing off ever since. It’s averaging a little over 8 million viewers this season; last week’s episode drew only 6.8 million people in the overnight numbers.
The 8 p.m. Thursday time period as a whole — once among the most-watched and most competitive in all of TV — has also gone soft. “Survivor” still does pretty well for CBS, but it’s averaged about 13.3 million viewers for its two cycles this season, a far cry from the 20 million-plus it used to draw routinely. NBC’s comedy block is also a shadow of its former ratings self, and even though fans of “Bones” follow it wherever FOX puts it, it’s not a massive hit either.
In other words, it’s not a bad environment in which to place a potential breakout new show like “Flash Forward.”
“It’s the most buzzworthy show we have right now,” McPherson said Tuesday. “And we really wanted to build on the success of ‘Private Practice’ and ‘Grey’s’ being kind of a perfect pair and bolster our Thursday night, which has been incredibly successful for us. … ‘Lost’ launched at 8 [on Wednesdays, in 2004], and I think there’s a great opportunity for ‘Flash Forward’ as well.”
Meanwhile, if “Ugly Betty” can keep most of the audience it draws now when it moves to Fridays, that will be a pretty good upgrade for ABC. McPherson says he hopes the show can establish itself as a destination on Fridays the way “Ghost Whisperer” has for CBS.
“America [Ferrera] is one of our biggest stars. We love the show,” McPherson says. “I just think when you look at what it’s done on Thursday night, we think we have a big opportunity with ‘Flash Forward.’ You have to make bold moves sometimes. I’d love to see it have a great run on Friday nights.”
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