Fresh programming heads West

Los Angeles Times

In cooking, timing is everything -- and the same could be said of cooking shows.

So the Food Network’s popular “30 Minute Meals,” hosted by Rachael Ray, will now air at 6 p.m. on the West Coast, when more cooks are in the kitchen, contemplating dinner, instead of at 3 p.m., its previous time. Likewise, the weekend morning shows such as “How to Boil Water” won’t be airing when West Coast viewers are still in bed.

The Food Network today thus becomes the latest cable channel to switch to a so-called dual satellite feed for its programming, so West Coast viewers see the programs at the same hour as East Coast viewers, instead of three hours earlier.

Sister network Home & Garden Television will add a West Coast feed Sept. 29, as will TBS SuperStation.


Late afternoon/early evening and weekend programming blocks benefit the most from a switch because most networks already rerun evening programming so it airs in the same prime time hours on both coasts.

So TBS decided to make the switch -- once the live Atlanta Braves baseball season is over -- to benefit its “Non-Stop Comedy Block” of sitcoms including “Seinfeld” and “Friends” (currently 1:30-5 p.m. PDT, switching to 4:30-8 p.m. in the fall.) “It’s time to let [West Coast viewers] live life the way it ought to be,” joked Mark Lazarus, president of Turner Entertainment, which includes TBS as well as Cartoon Network and TNT, both of which already have separate West Coast feeds.

The sitcoms have been popular, but “we’re doing it with one hand tied behind our back,” Lazarus said.

In addition, “Friends” will also be in a more appropriate, later hour on the West Coast than it currently is. “Friends” “isn’t necessarily an after-school show,” he said.


If TBS’ comedy block lineup stays the way it is now, it will mean that “Friends” will air at 7:30 p.m. weeknights on TBS, right after a 7 p.m. airing on KTLA-Channel 5.

Food Network expects its weekend “how-to” shows, collectively called “In the Kitchen,” will benefit from the later airing, as will an early evening block of the same name, said Judy Girard, the network’s president.

Promotion and marketing is much easier with programs running the same time on both coasts, but the extra cost -- minimal for a channel like Food Network, which is already transmitted digitally, but more than $1 million per year for a network that isn’t -- is the main reason some networks stick to a single feed. In addition, networks with lots of live programming don’t want to have two separate schedules that get disrupted.

But because the Pacific time zone accounts for 15% of all U.S. TV viewers, the change can have a significant impact on ratings and thus ad rates, even if it means temporary disruption for those viewers.

TBS estimates it could get a 10% ratings boost when it makes the switch in the fall, Lazarus said.

When A&E; and History Channel switched three years ago, viewers who had watched programs in the 5-8 p.m. hours switched their viewing to prime time, sending those ratings up significantly, said Melinda McLaughlin, A&E;'s senior vice president. Late-night ratings dropped, she said, but the overall impact was positive for both networks.

The September change will allow TBS for the first time to think about launching a late-night show. Under the current set-up, any programming edgy enough to appeal to late-night viewers would be inappropriate for 9 p.m. in the West, Lazarus said.

While many major channels have made the switch in recent years, West Coast viewers still get short shrift from news networks such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC.


The news networks have looked at two feeds in the past, but rejected the idea because so much of their programming is live. West Coast viewers tend to watch less news than those on the East Coast, but executives don’t know if it’s because they’re not interested -- or because the programs air at inconvenient times.