High Level of SPF: Summer Primetime FlopsDespite many shots, nets have not popped any new unscripted hits 8/13/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Summer famously launched some of the most successful reality
series ever—American Idol, Survivor and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
among them. But as the genre has invaded the television
schedule year-round, it has grown harder for broadcast networks to launch
new hits in the hotter months—a trend that has continued this season.
The Big Five broadcast nets have premiered 12 new series so far this
summer (nine of them reality shows). They will launch four more this week
with Fox’s Hotel Hell, NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes and The CW’s Oh Sit! and
The Next. Only two of the new series have broken 5 million viewers and
two others, CBS’ woefully titled dating show 3 and ABC’s improv comedy
series Trust Us With Your Life, were canceled mid-run because of low ratings.
Though broadcast’s audience share has declined with each year,
while cable’s originals—now found on more than just USA, TNT and
FX—continue to increase, the reason for the soft summer may be more
fundamental: The shows just have not been very good.
“They’re not coming up with any new ideas,” Billie Gold, VP/director
of programming research at Carat, said of the broadcast networks.
“They’re putting on retreads of shows that are mildly successful in the
summer, trying to get some of that audience. I think that viewers have
seen it before and they’re rejecting that.”
The reality shows drawing the highest ratings in the summer are
those veteran players—NBC’s America’s Got Talent (season 7); CBS’ Big
Brother (season 14); Fox’s MasterChef (season 3) and Hell’s Kitchen (season
10); and ABC’s The Bachelorette (season 8) and Wipeout (season 5).
But even those shows are posting year-over-year declines, and this
summer has so far seen no new hits to supplement them.
Cable, on the other hand, has managed to launch a few new scripted
players in TNT’s Dallas and Perception; A&E’s Longmire; and FX’s Anger
Management, albeit at cable’s lower viewership benchmarks for success.
Network executives agreed it has been a soft summer for broadcast
when asked at the TCA press tour last month about this season’s botched
attempts, such as 3 and ABC’s The Glass House (which didn’t pop despite
a publicity assist from a CBS legal suit) and the umpteenth entry into the
singing competition space, Duets.
“Reality is hard, because it’s very much
more difficult now to find the shock of
the new,” said ABC Entertainment Group
president Paul Lee. “I truly believe that it is
a mature genre. So I think the key is in execution
and making sure that you have got
a hook that you can bring people in on.”
CBS Entertainment president Nina
Tassler said every season they try to look
for concepts that are going to get people
talking, a crucial buzz factor in promoting
during the dog days of summer. “Going
forward, planning ahead, we looked at,
what can we do with scripted programming,”
she said. “It’s why we’re bringing
Unforgettable back for next summer.”
But scripted fare has not seen much
success on broadcast in the limited summer
series tried. Both NBC’s Saving Hope
and ABC’s hybrid docudrama Final Witness
failed to break out this year, and ABC’s Rookie Blue remains the sole
scripted constant summer-to-summer. But as cable proves, that doesn’t
mean an audience isn’t there.
“We’ve proven that in the summer—you see the Olympics, the kind of
numbers they’re putting on—if there’s something good on TV, the viewers
are there,” Gold said. “To me, the only way the networks can reverse this
trend is to start investing some money in some quality shows.”
The broadcasters may be starting to do just that, at least on the scripted
side: Unforgettable, which averaged 10 million viewers in its in-season
run, and ABC’s Mistresses, also picked up for summer 2013, both have
potential, Gold said, especially if ABC schedules Mistresses out of The
Bachelorette to capitalize on its compatible female audience.