With cablers loading up on original series, the lazy hazy days of summer programming are gone.
Where cable once looked to the summer as a prime time to launch series without tough competish from broadcast networks, cablers are now bumping into one another as they sked new skeins. Take the ultra-competitive 10 p.m. Tuesday slot. USA, TNT and A&E will do battle in the timeslot with new series, while FX will serve up the new season of "Rescue Me."
USA Network, the highest-rated cabler with skeins such as "White Collar," "Royal Pains" and top show "Burn Notice," will shuffle its Tuesday sked to make room at 10 p.m. for its latest entry, "Covert Affairs," in July as it looks to build a second night of original skeins on Tuesday. TNT's Jason Lee-starrer "Memphis Beat" bows June 22 and A&E's "The Glades," a Florida-set crime procedural with a blue-sky touch, arrives on July 13.
Whether there's enough of an audience to go around and satisfy everyone remains to be seen. Tuesday is the second biggest night of the week for TV viewing -- behind Monday -- and has been a successful one for originals on USA, FX and TNT.
Jeff Wachtel, USA prexy of original programming, said he knows "Covert Affairs" will face rougher terrain than USA encountered when "Monk" launched eight years ago -- or even a couple of years back when "Burn Notice" bowed -- but he said USA's top standing means it's not afraid of a challenge.
"You should always be concerned going into any new launch," Wachtel said. "It's not the clear sailing that we had for our summers before. There is more competition now and we don't shrink from that."
USA will move "White Collar" to 9 on the night to provide a launch pad for "Covert Affairs" at 10 (the exact preem date has not been set).
Net launched a successful Thursday block of "Burn Notice" and "Royal Pains" last year and is looking to spread its ratings momentum across the week. "Covert Affairs" stars Piper Perabo and Christopher Gorham as CIA agents.
"Memphis Beat" (originally titled "Delta Blues") features Jason Lee as a Tennessee cop who lives with his mother and has an deep connection to the city he patrols. George Clooney and Smokehouse Prods. partner Grant Heslov serve as exec producers -- a selling point that Turner will undoubtedly push hard.
With "The Glades," A&E topper Bob DeBitetto said the cabler is trying again to seed an original scripted franchise, after striking out with its past efforts.
A&E has grown leaps and bounds with its reality fare -- including "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and "Intervention" -- but it wants to play in the scripted game. After surveying the field, DeBitetto said Tuesday seemed like the optimum spot for "The Glades," which stars Aussie newcomer Matt Passmore as a Chicago cop who's forced by circumstances to move to Florida.
"Summer has become very competitive and there are no perfect windows free of competition," DeBitetto said. "We like Tuesday. We've looked carefully at what's on cable and broadcast and tried to take it all into account."
With so much activity on the night, marketing will play an even bigger factor than usual in determining which shows get sampling. USA would seem to be in the pole position as it already has more viewers than A&E, TNT and FX.
For "Rescue Me," FX is breaking the series' remaining 19 episodes into two seasons, the first of which bows June 29. The net has had success with the 10 p.m. timeslot for other shows, and it's been home to "Rescue Me" for a while. The current season of "Justified" is performing well there and "The Shield," the show that made FX a viable cable entry for scripted dramas, was also a 10 p.m. Tuesday player.
This year, FX is gambling that it can ride "Rescue Me's" coattails to launch offbeat domestic comedy "Louie," starring Louis C.K.
Meanwhile, the broadcast nets are unlikely to offer up much in the way of scripted competition. NBC will have the second half of a two-hour edition of "America's Got Talent," while ABC has committed to newsmags for at least some of the summer months.