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Call it the resurrection of the time slot of death.
For years, Friday nights have carried a grisly reputation — where shows on broadcast networks are sent to die. But a certain kind of cable show has recently performed well — even really well — on Friday nights.
Gold Rush, on the Discovery Channel, has been the No. 1 show across all channels on Friday nights. It draws almost 5 million viewers — not amazing numbers by American Idol standards, but considerably better than such weeknight cable hits as Mad Men or American Horror Story. Savvy cable programmers can work Friday night's weakness to their own advantage.
"Cable networks, in many cases they're looking for the soft underbelly of the broadcast schedule," says Bob Gorman, who co-runs the website TV By the Numbers. "The Bering Sea Gold premiere was the highest-rated series launch in the Discovery Channel history," he adds.
One of Bering Sea Gold's executive producers speculated at a recent reality show convention that sizable Friday night audiences might have something to do with the economy. People may be staying home, instead of spending Friday night out on the town. And according to Gorman, the percentage of audiences between the ages of 18 and 49 have risen 5 percent over the past year. But truTV cable executive Marc Juris doesn't buy this explanation.
"Forget the economy. You're tired," Juris says. "Unless you're twenty, you come home and you're pretty beat up."
Apparently, Friday fatigue translates to watching other people run through excessively whimsical obstacle courses on the TV show Wipeout. Airing a Friday night block of reruns has earned truTV completely respectable Friday night ratings.
"For us, Friday nights, we had nothing to lose," Juris says, observing that in the days of just four networks, the bottom one would sometimes take risks and end up on top. It turns out Univision is also doing well on Fridays, beating the English-language broadcast networks regularly at the end of every week.
And even the broadcast networks manage to find flickers of life in the time slot of death, with cult-y science-fiction or fantasy shows such as NBC's Grimm, or Fringe on Fox. That one's an X Files-like mystery — a show that was itself a Friday night hit in years past.