* Disney attempting to use superheroes to bolster ratings
* Pits new show against CBS' crime juggernaut "NCIS"
* Sister network ESPN speaking to wireless carriers -exec
By Liana B. Baker and Lisa Richwine
May 14 Walt Disney Co's ABC network is
tapping its blockbuster "Avengers" franchise for a new TV show,
looking to reverse a ratings decline that put it last of the
four largest networks among audiences coveted by advertisers.
The network is so confident in "Marvel's Agents of
S.H.I.E.L.D." that it scheduled the show on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
eastern time, where it will face off against TV's top-rated
scripted show, CBS' crime juggernaut "NCIS."
ABC plans to air a total eight new shows this fall,
according to a schedule of its Fall lineup that was released by
the network. It will also retool its long-running hit "Dancing
with the Stars," cutting it back from two nights to one after
its ratings weakened.
Its "S.H.I.E.L.D." offering is ABC's first effort to
translate the big-screen success of Disney's Marvel comics movie
franchise to television.
Last year's Marvel movie "The Avengers" and current hit
"Iron Man 3" had the industry's largest- and second-largest box
office openings in the United States and Canada, and "The
Avengers" ranks third in all-time domestic ticket sales behind
"Avatar" and "Titanic."
The new TV show will star "Avengers" actor Clark Gregg as
agent Phil Coulson, who assembles a small group of agents to
investigate strange happenings around the world. "Avengers"
movie director Joss Whedon, who created the hit sci-fi TV show
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer," will serve as executive producer.
"We believe S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to recruit a whole new
audience coming in," ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee told
reporters on a conference call. "And we don't necessarily think
that audience is the same as NCIS."
The show tested well in "all four quadrants," meaning young
and old, men and women, Lee said.
It faces a tough opponent in "NCIS," the top-rated
non-sports show on television. The show, which debuted in 2003,
this year attracted an average of 21.3 million total viewers,
according to Nielsen data, slightly behind only NBC's "Sunday
ABC hopes to lure younger viewers with the fast-paced,
special effects laden show instead of "NCIS," whose viewers have
a median age of 60, Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate said.
"ABC needs a youth-targeted, male-skewing show," Adgate
The network hopes S.H.I.E.L.D. will attract viewers to
Tuesday night, where ABC plans an entire night of new shows,
including "Lucky 7," a drama produced by Steven Spielberg that
follows seven gas station employees in Astoria, Queens who win
Lee will unveil the lineup of shows to advertisers Tuesday
afternoon at New York's Lincoln Center during a presentation for
the "upfront" selling season, when networks try to convince
advertisers to buy billions of dollars of ad time in advance.
ABC, like rival broadcasters, wants to bring in new viewers
to help reverse audience declines this season. Prime time
viewing has shrunk 9 percent at ABC, according to Nielsen data
provided by Horizon Media and based on viewing the same day a
ESPN TO PAY FOR DATA?
Another Disney-owned network, ESPN, confirmed on Tuesday it
is in preliminary talks with wireless carriers about subsidizing
data plans to boost mobile usage of its sports content.
"We've had lots of preliminary conversation, but there's
nothing imminent," ESPN President John Skipper told reporters
following his network's upfront presentation in New York.
"If you remember, in the first generation of smart phones,
there was lots of concern that a lot of video ate up the plans
in a hurry," Skipper said. "So that's a concern to us because we
have lots of fans."
Skipper did not say which carriers ESPN was talking to. The
Wall Street Journal reported last week that ESPN had spoken to
at least one major U.S. wireless carrier.
The sports network previously tried the mobile market with
its own cellular service, Mobile ESPN, which shut down in 2006.