Small Screen, Silver Bullet

Halfway through the current television season, audiences across the country are beginning to see the news of series cancellations and renewals pouring in. It seems like every year, dozens of shows on the major networks are advertised, hyped, and debuted only to be swept off the airwaves within a few weeks or at most after one season. With such an extensive process of conceptualizing, formulating, casting, filming, testing, and premiering shows, one would assume that television producers would have figured out how to avoid the bombs by now.

The truth is, the plethora of failed shows actually serve as a vehicle for the success of hit shows in a number of different ways. NBC’s The Playboy Club, with its relatively high production budget and massive advertising campaign, busted after just 3 episodes. In its place, the network introduced Rock Center, a newsmagazine show featuring popular NBC Nightly News managing editor and anchor Brian Williams, which should prove to be a hit. Sitcoms are particularly volatile; CBS’s How to be a Gentleman was axed almost immediately, but 2 Broke Girls on NBC has managed the highest ratings of any new comedy on TV. On the surface it seems like a matter of chance, but the major networks’ formula is far more precise than simply throwing a handful of darts at a target at once and hoping that one sticks.

There are other tactics being used with new shows in the process of sustaining ratings. For example, ABC’s rehash of Charlie’s Angels was cancelled amidst its first season, but the show, which many correctly predicted would be a flop, was intentionally penciled into a timeslot immediately preceding the popular Grey’s Anatomy, now in its eighth season. This kind of strategy is typical to the industry, drawing new audiences to strong shows to bolster their success. Grey’s will likely see another debut show fill the same role next season. On the other side of the coin, a new show may be juxtaposed with an already popular one, as in the case of the aforementioned 2 Broke Girls, which airs between the veteran How I Met Your Mother and last season’s surprise success Mike and Molly. It is clear that there is more to determining a new show’s success than luck.

The television networks have figured out and streamlined a formula that works for them, but the process of working diligently to discover and optimize a blueprint is an essential component to building a business in any industry. With the right formula, a business can avoid ending up on the cutting room floor.