Saturday, October 21, 2006

The World Series - Oct. 21, 2006




Playing hardball

Sports playoffs always wreak havoc with TV schedules. But the annual baseball break also gives networks a chance for other kinds of gameplay.

By Eric Kohanik

Baseball playoffs finally settle into World Series mode this week. And that’s a significant moment– not just for baseball, but forthe TV season in general.

In many ways, sports playoffs are always areal pain in the neck for those of us in the TV business. Playoffs tend to wreak all sorts of havoc with network schedules and individual TV series.

Every spring, for instance, hockey playoffs wipe out CBC’s entire primetime schedule for almost two months (something CTV really ought to consider should it actually attempt to snag Hockey Night in Canada next year).

Baseball playoffs have a different sort of impact on the TV landscape in the fall. They tend to ruin any sort of momentum that new shows have struggled to build up in their first few weeks of existence.

That’s why Fox – the network that owns American TV rights to baseball playoffs and the World Series – launched its new season earlier than everyone else again this year. It rolled out the return of Prison Break, alongwith the premieres of such high-profile newcomers as Justice and Vanished, way back in August. The move was supposed to crank up enough story momentum and viewer interest in those shows to help them survive the ritual of being benched for baseball’sfinal onslaught.

It’s a strategy Fox used with Prison Break last year, and it worked well enough to try it again this time around.

In Canada, meanwhile, the impact of baseball playoffs and the World Series is a little different. Television rights here belong to Rogers Sportsnet, an all-sports cable outlet that would probably rely on televising tiddlywinks tournaments if it didn’t have baseball.

But baseball playoffs still affect Canadian broadcast networks such as Global and CTV, which are generally addicted to having American shows from networks like Fox on their primetime schedules. They have to scramble a little to fill in any gaps caused by the annual “baseball break.”

Fortunately, the scramble starts to subside this week, with such Fox series as Prison Break, Standoff and Happy Hour gettingback in the groove with new episodes. By month’s end, things everywhere will be back to normal. Or, at least as normal as things can get in the TV world.

The baseball break also gives all networks a chance for some other key gameplay. It’s the time when American networks assess how their new shows are doing and deteRmine what schedule tinkering needs to bedone to improve things.

If there are cancellations to be made, this is often the time for those to surface. In fact, CBS’s Smith has already bitten the dust, while NBC’s Kidnapped moves to Saturdays and will end after its 13-week run.

Watch for a slew of casualties to come.

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