- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rivals raid FX ratings

The competition finally is catching up to FX.

Increased original fare from cable networks such as AMC, Oxygen and Black Entertainment Television are contributing to the sluggish ratings start of its two sophomore series, “The Riches” and “Dirt,” both of which are down double digits from last season’s viewer performances, Multichannel.com says.

Three weeks since its March 2 debut, “Dirt” — headlined by former “Friends” star Courteney Cox as an unscrupulous tabloid magazine editor — is averaging 1.6 million viewers in its Sunday 10 p.m. time slot, 25 percent below the 2.1 million viewers generated for its January-to-March 2007 run. In the network’s target 18-49 demographic, the show is down 29 percent, to 1.1 million viewers from 1.5 million in 2007.

Similarly, the March 18 debut of “The Riches” drew 1.5 million viewers, well below the 4.5 million that the series — which stars Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard — generated in its March premiere episode last year.

Steve LeBlang, FX senior vice president of planning and research, says both shows are up against much stronger competition than last year, which accounts for much of the show’s declining viewership numbers.

Indeed. “Dirt” is pitted head to head against AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” which is averaging 1.3 million viewers and 805,000 viewers in the 18-to-49 demo. Last year, “Dirt” was up against repeats of TNT’s “The Closer” and first-run episodes of BET’s reality series “College Hill: Atlanta.”

As for “The Riches,” the series’ sophomore debut butted heads with new episodes of BET’s “College Hill: Atlanta” and “Black Poker Starsas well as Bravo’s new reality series, “The Real Housewives of New York City.” “College Hill: Atlanta” averaged 1.9 million viewers, while “Black Poker Stars”— a celebrity tournament featuring such stars as “K-Ville’s” Anthony Anderson — drew 877,000 viewers.

Meanwhile, Bravo’s ” Real Housewives” drew a series-high 944,000 viewers against “The Riches” in the 10 p.m. time slot.

Not that last season was a cakewalk for “The Riches”: The series had to wrestle with perennial ratings grappler World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Raw” series and MTV’s popular reality series “The Hills” as well as repeat episodes of “Law and Order” on TNT.

“Five years ago, there was a small list of original series that cable networks were offering in prime time,”Mr. LeBlang says. “This year, cable networks are offering 59 original series in total during the 2007-08 season, a fivefold increase since 2002.”

He also says new technologies such as DVRs and TiVos have cut into the premiere audiences for “Dirt” and “The Riches.” Last year, DVR numbers for both shows added 300,000 more viewers to the overall tally, and Mr. LeBlang expects a similar increase this year.

‘Trees,’ ‘Road’ on ice

It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re on the verge of cancellation, but the ABC dramas “October Road” and “Men in Trees” reportedly are seeking new homes, Zap2it.com says, citing a report in the Hollywood Reporter.

According to THR, ABC sent tapes of both shows to Lifetime, but the trade publication says the cable network already has ruled out picking up either series.

So what’s the next option?

“October Road” is in particular danger. After spending its first season in the safe confines of Thursday nights at 10 p.m. after “Grey’s Anatomy” and frequently drawing more than 10 million viewers per episode, the coming-of-age drama moved to ABC’s Monday 10 p.m. trouble spot this year. After premiering with a little more than 6 million viewers, the show has been struggling to reach 5 million viewers in recent weeks.

Fans already have begun the requisite “save-our-show” campaign.

Because of its proven scheduling versatility and the show’s relative star power, “Men in Trees” is said to have a better chance of renewal than “October Road,” Zap2it.com notes.

The final word on both shows won’t come until ABC presents its fall lineup to advertisers at its upfront presentation in May.

On tap tonight

Autism: The Musical (8 p.m., HBO): Art as a healer is among the themes of this film, which tells the story of five autistic children, their families and the woman who pushes the youngsters beyond expectations as they stage an original musical, Associated Press notes. The documentary features Elaine Hall, an educator, writer, performer and acting coach who also is the mother of an autistic boy and founder of the Miracle Project, a Los Angeles-based theater program.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports

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