Broadcast Networks Show Their Otherworldly Side
Are NBC's new hits part of a spiritual awakening, or just good TV?
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/24/2005 8:00:00 PM
It has been a tough season for NBC, but the network's midseason has been blessed by the arrival of two out-of-this world shows: Medium, about a psychic who solves crimes, and Revelations, about a scientist investigating the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Nearly 16 million viewers watched the debut episode of Revelations, which scored NBC's best performance against an original American Idol since NBC aired an NBA Final opposite the singing competition juggernaut in June 2002.
Similarly, Medium is NBC's highest-rated Monday-night drama among adults 18-49 in 15 years, and debuted with 16.1 million total viewers. Overall, originals of the show average a 5.7 rating/14 share in the key adult demographic, improving the time period by 84%.
Those are numbers that can give network religion. Indeed a look at network development rosters reveals that the six broadcast networks have eight shows on the boards with spiritual or supernatural themes. The show with the highest profile is NBC's The Book of Daniel, featuring Aidan Quinn as a preacher addicted to prescription drugs who frequently sees Jesus, played by Deadwood's Garret Dillahunt.
Daniel has been in development for months, and the early success of Revelations has to be an encouraging sign it will be watched closely by NBC executives. But for the record, NBC credits the success of Revelations as much to good story as its spiritual theme.
Ted Frank, NBC's executive VP of current series, notes, “Revelations tells the kind of story that has often struck a chord with viewing audiences. And that goes all the way back to movies like The Omen, which was an affecting film, or The Exorcist, one of the biggest movies of all time. Both played against spiritual themes.”
Networks woke up to spirituality as a plot possibility when CBS hit in fall 2003 with Joan of Arcadia, about a high school girl who found herself talking to God in unlikely places.
“When Joan came on the air, it got a lot of attention for its premise,” Frank says. “That's what The Book of Daniel expects to do as well.”
Fans say Joan plotlines strayed, and the sophomore show's ratings have taken a 25% tumble from its first year, dropping from an average 10.6 million to 7.97 million viewers. Among adults 18-49, it has fallen 22%, from a 2.7 rating to a 2.1.
The show's producers are working hard to get it back on track by introducing new characters—in particular one who talks to Satan instead of talking to God—to persuade CBS to give it a third-season pick-up.
“He's going to reflect the audience's doubts and questions about God and about spirituality,” says executive producer Stephen Nathan. “It's going to be that voice that gnaws inside of everybody. The dark side exists in everybody, so how do we reconcile those two sides of ourselves?”
Even with Joan on a slide, Medium, Revelations and even ABC's Lost have caused network executives to rethink the types of shows they develop.
“I think the shows that have popped this year, the ones that have really stood out, are the shows that took chances,” says Morgan Wandell, senior VP of drama series at Touchstone Television. “Desperate Housewives and Lost were different than all the procedurals that were on the air. It's a recognition of the fact that audiences respond to new and different ideas for dramatic series. That's what the big driver is.”
Touchstone has two metaphysical shows in the works: a remake of '70s hit Kolchak: The Night Stalker and a yet-untitled show about a crime- solving psychic loosely based on the life of James Van Praagh.
While spiritual and supernatural are definitely part of the mix, what many TV execs are really looking for is just plain old scary.
“There's nothing really scary on television right now, and we thought there was an opening,” Wandell says. “We hope Night Stalker is going to capitalize on that.”
Says David Janollari, The WB's president of entertainment, “What I've been noticing this year in the feature-film business is, any time one of these new horror movies opens, it almost without fail becomes the No. 1 movie of the weekend. Audiences are flocking to see The Ring, The Grudge and The Amityville Horror. They are showing us a huge appetite for a scary thrill ride, and that's not really on the television landscape right now.”
The WB is developing a show called Supernatural, with Warner Bros. Television and McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision producing. In the show, two brothers, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, chase down mysterious phenomena.
Janollari asks,“Are we setting to do a show that really has deep ramifications about the spiritual world and religion? No. But we want a show that week after week delivers scares and is a fun ride into the supernatural world.”
|God, Ghosts and Goblins: TV Gets Metaphysical|
|Night Stalker||ABC||Remake of '70s classic Kolchak: The Night Stalker||Gabrielle Union, Stuart Townsend, Eric Jungmann|
|Untitled John Gray Project||CBS||Psychic solves crimes; based on James Van Praagh's life||Aisha Tyler, Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad|
|Triangle||UPN||Doctor searches for lost bride in Devil's Triangle.||Ivan Sergei, Elize Du Toit, DB Woodside, Tawny Cypress|
|Supernatural||The WB||Two brothers solve supernatural mysteries.||Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Elizabeth Bond|
|Book of Daniel||NBC||Drug-addicted minister gets day-to-day help from modern Jesus.||Aidan Quinn, Ellen Burstyn, Dylan Baker, Susanna Thompson, Garret Dillahunt|
|Threshold||CBS||Team of scientists and military personnel encounters alien life-form.||Carla Gugino, Charles S. Dutton, Brent Spiner, Robert Patrick Benedict, Brian Van Holt|
|Fathom||NBC||Researchers run into mysterious sea creatures.||Lake Bell, Jay Ferguson, Rade Serbedzija, Carter Jenkins, Leighton Meester|
|Briar & Graves||Fox||Investigators explore spiritual phenomena.||Elisabeth Röhm, Charles Mesure, Angel Desai, Colm Meaney, Dondre T. Whitfield, Graham Beckel|
No related content found.
No Top Articles
Digital Rapids provides market-leading software and hardware solutions, technology and expertise for transforming live and on-demand video to reach wider audiences on the latest viewing platforms more efficiently, more effectively and more profitably. Empowering applications from..more