Fall primetime insights: mid-age skewing entertainment networks


Baseline Intelligence Media analysts Steve Sternberg and Shari Anne Brill have teamed for their latest report, Primetime TV Insight: The 2011 Fall TV Preview Edition. This is their take on the new fall shows. Yesterday we looked at younger-skewing entertainment networks. Today, it’s mid-age skewing entertainment networks:

All cable networks in this group have median ages between 47-55, and have higher ratings among adults 25-54 than among adults 18-49. USA’s Characters Welcome campaign was perhaps the most successful re-branding effort in cable history.

It has successfully established the network as a destination for content featuring sharply drawn personalities. USA is the top-ranked cable entertainment network. Its leadership position is largely due to its mix of noteworthy original series such as Psych, Burn Notice, White Collar, Royal Pains, and Covert Affairs (and, of course, WWE Raw). The network also airs a variety of films from the Universal Studios library.

After four seasons on USA (and six on NBC) Law & Order: Criminal Intent will end its run in late summer 2011. The series returned to USA on May 1st. Freshman series Covert Affairs was USA’s strongest new entry last season and is now one of its highest rated shows. The second season of Covert Affairs premiered on June 7th, and ratings are only down slightly. 

Covert Affairs has launched a new plotline that takes place in Budapest, but it’s only available in the Twitterverse. The tweetcasts began one week after the second season premiere. The mission in Hungary was developed by the program’s writers and will include videos, audio streams, photos and classified documents. Fans can also influence the plot by jumping into the conversation. A resolution to the plot will run during the July 12th TV episode. This very innovative effort was partially inspired by Christopher Gorham, the actor who plays one of the central characters who happens to be blind (who also happens
to have an active Twitter following).

In other sophomore series news, USA is planning on making substantial creative changes to Fairly Legal in advance of its second season launch. Co-president Jeff Wachtel indicated that the renewal was based on the show’s appealing star, Sarah Shahi, but noted that there is room for creative improvement as well as audience growth. Accordingly, series creator Michael Sardo has stepped down as executive producer and showrunner of the legal dramedy. Executive producer Peter Ocko (Pushing Daisies) has been tapped as the new exec producer/showrunner on the series for its upcoming second season.

The fourth season of In Plain Sight launched on Sunday, May 1st, while season three of White Collar returned Tuesday, June 7th. Royal Pains, Burn Notice, and Psych will all be back during summer 2011.

In the past two years, USA has launched two new series per season: Royal Pains and White Collar in 2009/10 and Covert Affairs and Fairly Legal in 2010/11.

Two new shows, Necessary Roughness and Suits, made their debuts in June, and both look like hits. Necessary Roughness, which premiered June 29h, is about a tough Long Island divorcee (Thorne) who, in order to make ends meet, gets a job as a therapist for a professional football team. 

Its debut episode delivered 4.7 million viewers and retained 93% of season three’s premiere of Royal Pains. Suits, which premiered June 23rd, centers on a top Manhattan corporate lawyer (Gabriel Macht) who recruits a brilliant, but unmotivated college dropout (Patrick J. Adams) as a new associate. Its debut episode, which delivered 4.6 million total viewers, held on to 88% of the audience to Burn Notice.

Speaking of Burn Notice, the fifth season opener, which notched 5.2 million viewers, was up by 20% versus season four’s fall premiere.

The network also continues to provide super-sized portions of acquired drama fare consisting of House, CSI, Law & Order: SVU and NCIS. Replays of these off-network properties comprise more than half of the network’s annual primetime programming hours.

At its recent upfront presentation, USA unveiled a development slate that demonstrated its renewed commitment to get into the half-hour comedy business. Five new comedies are in the works, including one starring Nathan Lane (which has a hilarious premise).

While launching original half-hours has been something newly minted USA co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber had wanted to do for a while, there is greater urgency to do now. Their goal is to get a strong half-hour series on the air to coincide with the 2013 launch of its high-profile off-network acquisition Modern Family.

Unscripted development is also being emphasized, which was undoubtedly inspired by the successful performance of WWE Tough Enough. The one-hour drama projects in development will feature characters that are “more provocative” than the leads on USA’s current series. Usually, however, when a network decides to get “edgier,” ratings decline.

The network also announced a new hour-long Hollywood special with Vanity Fair West Coast editor Krista Smith featuring three celebrity interviews; if successful, additional episodes could be produced. USA has also been looking to get into the daily talk show business and the Smith special is part of that effort.

USA’s comedies in development:
On We Go is a single camera comedy starring Nathan Lane as an unlucky actor whose career has been perpetually cursed by the fact that he resembles, but is in fact not, Nathan Lane.

Big in Japan reunites the members of a popular boy band 20 years after their last concert ended in disaster, even though they vowed to never play together again. We the Jury chronicles the lives of a group of jurors sequestered (for an indefinite amount of time) during a high profile celebrity murder trial.

TGIM looks at the suburban cul-de-sac lifestyle where parents’ lives are ruled by their children’s weekend schedules and the idea of going back to work on Monday sounds better each passing minute.

House of Cards is about a recent college graduate who looks for love and a successful writing career at a greeting card company.

USA dramas in development:
Common Law is about two cops (Michael Ealy and Warren Kole) who have problems with one other. One is a detailed, methodical former lawyer with a passion for cars, gardening and his ex-wife, the other is a ladies’ man who served time in juvenile hall. Their captain, in order to save their professional partnership, sends the pair to couples therapy to resolve their conflicts.

Production on the eleven-episode series gets underway next month. The series will be filmed in New Orleans. Silent Partner is about an ambulance-chasing attorney and his idealistic young paralegal. Their unlikely partnership is a product of the new phenomenon of legal outsourcing: He’s in Florida and she’s in India.

M. Deity is an unconventional medical drama about a good doctor who’s an even better meddler. In the aftermath of Katrina, he heroically saved numerous lives and now fights an intractable foe: hospital bureaucracy.

The Special is about an energetic, optimistic homicide detective who suffers from hypomania. Despite his high clearance rate, he remains an enigma to his colleagues in a high-profile unit of the LAPD.

The Exceptions is about the debutante daughter of the Mayor of NYC, who after having had to serve jail time on trumped up charges uses her resources to solve cases that have slipped through the cracks.

Hard Cover is about a middle-aged mom who works with a rogue FBI agent. Winslow is about a private detective who’s a recovering alcoholic with a load of debts, a father in prison, and an ex-girlfriend he’s trying to win back.

Regular Einstein is about a family of geniuses with three siblings who are each at the top of their academic fields. Ironically, their youngest sibling named Einstein is not a genius, but a good cop and with their help, he might be a great detective. USA is also planning a limited-run series, The Enclave. It is about a family that is forced to move far from their hometown because of a job opportunity and nothing is what it seems in their new community.

TNT is known for drama and sports. The network’s We Know Drama campaign has been one of the most successful cable branding efforts. TNT is perennially among the top rated cable outlets, with a stable of successful original scripted dramas rivaled only by USA for consistently strong ratings.

The Closer, arguably the most successful ad-supported cable original series ever, enters its final season still going strong. Last season’s debut of Rizzoli & Isles was a resounding success, as its ratings (at least for viewers under 55) have surpassed even those of The Closer. It remains to be seen, however,
whether this performance can be maintained without the benefit of having that long running hit as a lead-in. But that problem is still more than a year away for TNT. We think it can easily stand on its own.

Men of a Certain Age started out decently, but declined sharply in its third season and was canceled. Southland doesn’t perform much better, but has been renewed for another 10-episode season this fall.

TNT has had only a couple of missteps in its drama development. Legal drama Raising the Bar (which debuted in 2008) had its moments, but was ultimately too uneven to maintain its initial audience. Dark Blue was an excellent (and intense) action cop drama during its first season in 2009. But the network made the too-common mistake of trying to broaden its audience by softening the show and adding a superfluous female boss (which completely changed the dynamics of the series). It was canceled after its second season.

On Sunday, June 19th, TNT debuted a new sci-fi drama, Falling Skies (with Noah Wyle, from Dreamworks and Steven Spielberg) The two hour premiere, which posted 5.9 million viewers, was the highest rated new series launch on cable this year. So far its ratings are staying strong, and the series has just been picked up for another season.

The now all-too-common descriptor ”light-hearted legal drama” applies to another new series, Franklin & Bash (with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who was in the network’s last failed attempt at lighthearted legal drama, Raising the Bar). Ratings have been solid, and seem to be holding up.

On Monday, July 11th, TNT’s strongest series, The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles, rejoined the network’s summer lineup. As usual, they will elevate the network’s summer ratings.

TNT’s acquired off-network programming over the past year included heavy doses of Bones, as well as Law & Order and some CSI: NY. The Mentalist recently joined TNT’s schedule, and the network just acquired off-network rights to ABC’s Castle.

While much attention centers on TNT’s original series, they only account for about 12% of the network’s annual primetime schedule hours. Far less than the 46% allocated to movies, 23% to off-network series, and 18% to sports.

TNT has ordered 10 episodes of Perception, a new drama about a neuroscientist (Eric McCormack) who works with the federal government to crack difficult cases. It will premiere in 2012.

TNT has greenlit its long-in-development remake of Dallas, which will have a new cast but also feature the returns of several of the original series’ stars, including Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray, who reprise their roles from the original CBS series.

The network also has several new scripted series in development with no specified start dates. They include: Untitled Kip Koenig/John Wells Project about a family of cops in the Pacific Northwest in a small town where things aren’t what they seem.

Scent of the Missing, about a search and rescue officer and her partner, a Labrador retriever. Gateway, about three brothers bound by honor and duty in the Old West following the Civil War. Untitled Eric Garcia Project, about a daydreaming police clerk with an overactive imagination.

Untitled Jay Cocks Project, about a former newspaper reporter who becomes a private eye in Baltimore (based on a character from Laura Lippman’s series of books).

Untitled Shaun Cassidy/Kimberly Williams-Paisley Project, about a Southern mess of a family that takes in their widowed daughter-in-law and her gifted young son.

Untitled Mitch Albom Project, about a Detroit radio station manager. Snatched is about a woman who can’t decide whether she wants a life of domesticity with a family, or to continue the adrenaline rush of retrieving priceless artifacts.

The Command centers on an elite squad of detectives within the New York City police department. Enigma is a modern day mystery of the week in the vein of Sherlock Holmes.

ION is technically not a cable network, but it is bought and sold like a cable network, it’s programmed like a cable network, and it generates ratings like a
cable network, so it belongs here as part of the cable section.

ION has traditionally relied on off-network series and movies during primetime. For the past couple of seasons, the network has been airing the always popular Criminal Minds and Without a Trace. This has helped propel ION into the top 10 rated networks among adults 25-54, and the top 5 among women 25-54.

Acquired CBS procedural dramas are the center of ION’s Monday–Friday primetime schedule, and the network has made a deal for all existing episodes of CBS’s summer success, Flashpoint. And in a first for ION, the deal includes producing up to 18 original season 4 episodes (currently in production and scheduled to air early next year). ION also has the right to continue original production of the series for season 5 and beyond. This is the first step in ION’s stated plan to expand into original programming (both scripted and unscripted).

ION recently acquired Psych and Monk from Universal Cable Productions and House from Universal Media Studios. ION will have the right to air six and future seasons of the detective series Psych. Monk comes to ION with all eight complete seasons. Both series will start later this summer, airing primarily on weekends. House will debut in fall 2012 – the network can air the show twice a week for a year.

ION airs primarily theatrical movies on Saturday and Sunday in its Big Movie Weekend block. The network recently acquired 65 movie titles from Universal Pictures (Baby Mama, Ray, Fast & Furious, Couples Retreat), MGM (Dances With Wolves, Valkyrie, all 5 Rocky movies), and Sony (A Few Good Men, Stand by Me, Jumanji).

It seems like just yesterday that AMC was known as an older-skewing cable network airing little but old movies. Few networks have turned their image around so quickly and effectively among the press and among advertisers.

It accomplished this not just by transitioning from old classic to “new classic” movies, but by scheduling three highly praised original series – Mad Men (four seasons), Breaking Bad (three seasons), and The Walking Dead (just completed its first season). The network’s one misstep was the failed Rubicon – a very good
show that was not compatible with Mad Men (with which it was paired) on Sunday. Its median age of 60 didn’t help. It was canceled after one season.

Breaking Bad has been more popular among the press and critics than among viewers. But it has been renewed for a fourth season, and returned on July 17th for a new season of 13 episodes. Leading up to the season premiere, AMC is offering the entire third season on VOD (June 20-July 17).

Mad Men’s strength remains in adults 55+ (although it does perform decently among adults 25-54). Negotiations progressed slowly for Mad Men’s fifth season, so it won’t have its typical mid-summer start date, instead returning in early 2012.

The zombie mystery thriller, The Walking Dead, now stands as the strongest original scripted series on ad-supported cable, generating ratings of 2.5 or higher among households, adults 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54. AMC’s latest mystery drama, The Killing, which debuted on April 3rd to solid ratings, looks like a
success – if not a major hit. It’s been renewed for next season.

Note the wide disparity in median ages among the various series on AMC. This is an indication that viewers are coming in just to watch specific shows, and then leaving. Their respective audiences are substantially different.

Despite the image makeover, roughly 90% of AMC’s primetime schedule hours during the past 12 months were devoted to movies, with less than 5% for first-run original scripted series.

AMC primetime: Monday – Movie (Rocky III); Tuesday – Movie (Rio Bravo); Wednesday – Movies (Rambo: First Blood Part II; The Recruit); Thursday – Movie (The Perfect Storm); Friday – Movie (Open Range); Saturday – Movie (Flight of the Phoenix); Sunday – Movie (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), The Killing. Across the entire week, there was just one hour of scripted programming.

TV Land
TV Land began a transformation back in 2007 with the objective of targeting Baby Boomers. During the channel’s metamorphosis, its average primetime ratings dropped substantially among its core adult 50+ audience. This was necessary if the network was to really transform itself.

The network moved away from classic 60’s comedies like Andy Griffith in favor of more recent classics like Everybody Loves Raymond. TV Land continues its transformation and has tried to re-brand itself as the home for 40-something viewers, providing a destination for original series, acquired shows and movies,
as well as a content-rich website.

The network’s two main acquired series, Everybody Loves Raymond and Sanford & Son each have median ages over 55. And while TV Land’s original series, Hot in Cleveland (starring Betty White) and Retired at 35 (starring George Segal and Jessica Walters) have brought more viewers to the network, they too have median ages of roughly 55. So while they might be getting Baby Boomers, it’s not the ones they necessarily started out pursuing.

Hot in Cleveland started its second season on June 15th, and was paired with a new comedy, Happily Divorced, starring Fran Drescher. It does not appeal to a younger audience, and will do nothing to lower TV Land’s average median age below 55.

While both shows opened up with 2.4 million viewers, Happily Divorced has slipped (but seems to have stabilized). Episode three of Hot in Cleveland fell slightly to nearly 2.3 million total viewers, while Happily Divorced was just under 1.8 million total viewers, a 28% loss from Cleveland.

A Hot in Cleveland spin-off is in the works for guest star, Cedric the Entertainer. TV Land has two other new original comedies in development. Ex-Men, which stars Donald Faison, Wayne Knight, David Alan Basche, and Kristen Johnson, is about three divorced men who share an apartment with a smart, sexy, female divorce attorney as their landlord. Rip City, starring Christine Taylor and Sheri Shepard, is an office comedy that takes place at Rip City Cola, a regional beverage manufacturer and distributor.

Popular acquired comedy staples include the previously referenced Everybody Loves Raymond, along with Roseanne and The Nanny. Other off-network sitcoms in TV Land’s primetime roster include M*A*S*H, Sanford & Son, Home Improvement, Married…With Children, The Brady Bunch, 3rd Rock From The
Sun and Cosby.

Returning unscripted series include High School Reunion and She’s Got the Look. Harry Loves Lisa (with Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin) will start in the 4th Quarter.

New reality competition series Forever Young reveals how funny it can be when youth and wisdom join forces, whether in appreciation of the past, understanding the present or preparing for the future.

Specials include: The Annual TV Land Awards, AFI Life Achievement Award special, which aired in June 2011, honored Morgan Freeman. The award honors an individual for his/her lifetime contribution to enriching American culture through motion pictures and television.

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