Now here’s a way to boost your channel’s ratings where no ratings have gone before: Schedule all five of TV’s “Star Trek” series to air together nightly. (Except Saturday.)
It’s happening this week on Heroes & Icons, the digital subchannel offshoot of MeTV that launched nationally in fall 2014. H&I started broadcasting locally as WWOR/9.4 last fall, and cracked the Optimum cable lineup this May (on Ch. 140). As an “emerging” channel, retro-centric H&I hopes its nightly ‘Trek’-fest will broaden viewership at warp speed.
“H&I needed some kind of signature to help define and differentiate it from other networks,” says Neal Sabin, vice chairman of Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting, which created MeTV and H&I. After acquiring Trek rights more than a year ago, Sabin waited for H&I to expand in big markets like New York, finally timing its arrival alongside J.J. Abrams’ big-screen sequel “Star Trek Beyond.”
Sunday night’s H&I kickoff featured the premiere hours of the original ’60s “Star Trek,” ’80s revival “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” ’90s continuations “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager,” and prequel “Enterprise,” in one continuous block, which will continue on Sundays 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Tonight’s H&I lineup introduces the weeknight schedule, which brackets prime time: “Star Trek” and “Next Generation” paired 6-8 p.m., with “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” and “Enterprise” running 11 p.m.-2 a.m.
Sabin, a lifelong TV junkie and career broadcasting exec, knew that ’70s afternoon syndication of “Star Trek” had attracted young fans to sustain the franchise, while late-night repeats (like WPIX/11’s ’80s midnight run) cemented adult appeal.
That scheduling strategy also leaves prime time free to show what else H&I has to offer. “Xena: Warrior Princess” (8 p.m.) and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” (9 p.m.) deliver ’90s fantasy adventure, with contemporary adult drama in groundbreaking police hour “NYPD Blue” at 5 and 10 p.m. (“Blue” restarts today at 5 with the 1993 pilot starring David Caruso with Dennis Franz.) H&I’s 30-plus series further include daytime westerns (from “Have Gun — Will Travel” to “Kung Fu”), afternoon cops (“Hunter,” “Hill Street Blues”), and weekend/overnight spies (“The Wild Wild West,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”).
“Our goal and programming skew is to be a little younger and a little more male” than sibling MeTV, says Sabin, who runs both retro channels along with vintage siblings Decades (co-owned with CBS; locally over-the-air WCBS/2.2, Optimum Ch. 112) and Movies! (with MGM; WNYW/5.2, Optimum Ch. 113).
Each fills a niche for local broadcast stations seeking wide-ranging audiences in the subchannel space created by 2009’s federally mandated switch from analog transmission to digital. Other “diginet” competitors include Antenna TV (WPIX/11.2, Optimum Ch. 114), Cozi TV (WNBC/4.2, Optimum 109), Laff (WABC/7.3, Optimum 108), and Buzzr (WWOR/9.3, Optimum 95).
It’s fertile ground for TV growth, as Sabin and Weigel found when MeTV’s 2010 national launch created a phenomenon by carefully curating a lineup of TV classics like “M*A*S*H,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Perry Mason,” the 60-year-old legal series that Sabin says is “pushing a million people every night” at 11:30 — bringing MeTV more viewers than most first-run channels. He boasts Me reaches 26 million different viewers a week.
Maybe that’s because Sabin’s Weigel channels respect their viewers’ affection for “our TV heritage,” the same way that Nick at Nite/TV Land were positioned in the ’80s-’90s. H&I will run the original ’60s “Trek” episodes without the cuts common over the past 50 years. And MeTV will add Darren McGavin’s 1974 cult fave, “The Night Stalker,” to run alongside Peter Falk’s “Columbo” this fall.