'Harper's Island' Gets Put Out to Pasture on Saturday Nights

This week on Harper's Island the ratings get slashed. CBS president Les Moonves, who may or may not have been wearing a horrible Network Executive Ghoul mask, is moving the best new show on television to a brand new night of the week with a special start time. That's right. The television event is going to bring new excitement to Saturday nights when it comes to you at the more family friendly viewing time of 9PM!

CBS had clearly hoped that Harper's Island would become a nationwide phenomenon and a ratings juggernaut moving into the summer, and had even speculated that the limited run project could be developed into an on going primetime fixture given the proper financial motivation. They ran commercials constantly, built up a viral online marketing campaign and got a lot of media coverage. Unfortunately when the Nielsons came in they had reason to scream because it became obvious what they did last summer: They blew a lot of money on a series no one wanted to watch.

I love Harper's Island. I'm not sure that you could turn it into an ongoing series without destroying a lot of what I like about the show, but I would have been willing to hear CBS out if they wanted to try. But I had already gotten the impression that was a long shot after the ratings started coming back with numbers I could count to on both hands. This past week only took five fingers. The series moving to Saturday nights means it won't die prematurely or even released exclusively online. It will just be sent out into the wilderness to survive on its own until it meets its inevitable end.

The timeslot is incredibly inconvenient for anyone who doesn't own a Tivo - which last I checked is still the vast majority of television viewers.  But the network's logic is right along those lines. Apparently 29% more people watched Harper's Island on Tivo than when it was broadcast and that jump is 33% if you're looking at adults 18-34.CBS reckons they could beam it out Sunday mornings at 4am and anyone with a DVR could watch it at their leisure just as easily. It's also a hot show for online downloads, so CBS hopes the interruption to the series flow will be minimal for all of those young, technologically savvy consumers who failed to tune in on Thursday nights.

"This move gives us an opportunity to improve the time period on Thursday while experimenting with more original programming on Saturday, and continuing to serve an audience that is clearly engaged in the ongoing 'Harper's Island' story," said Kelly Kahl, senior EVP prime time, CBS Television.

I just see a few problems with that. For one thing a lot of these young, digital downloading, Tivo programming people are going to go out on Saturdays, which means the actual ratings are bound to fail worse than ever. For another Harper's Island is a high risk show for spoilers. If people start reading the spoilers headlines about who got killed they may not feel the need to go back and watch the show later. In fact, they may get fed up and tell CBS the deal is off. They're canceling their season pass and they're not downloading it anymore.

Finally, since Harper's is a critic's darling one has to take into account what days people are reading the paper and scanning Internet news sites. Something tells me Thursday and Friday mornings are a better shot than Saturday mornings and Sundays. That means it's going to be easier to forget and harder to feel like a part of.

At least Harper's Island will have a lot of good company in the graveyard of series who have been buried on Friday and Saturday nights.

-Henry Jenkins, BuddyTV Staff Writer
(Image courtesy of CBS)