By macleans.ca - Friday, March 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
Is Friday night’s reign as the TV “death slot” coming to an end?
When ABC announced that the comedy Happy Endings was being moved to Friday nights, most observers assumed that was the end for the critically acclaimed show; Friday night in television is known as the “death slot.” Happy Endings, which begins its Friday run on March 29, is the latest in a long line of shows that have been banished to Friday night, and fans have learned to dread it: when the sci-fi show Fringe was moved to the slot a few years ago, the network made a joke of it with the advertising tag line: “You may think Friday night is dead, but we’re going to re-animate it.” Today, that scenario might be coming true; in an era when most nights of TV are in trouble, the worst night of the week may not be quite so bad.
Because Friday is a night when few people stay home to watch TV, networks rarely program their most promising shows there: when CSI became an unexpected hit on Fridays, the network moved it to another day. Otherwise, Friday night, which formerly played host to megahits like Dallas and The Dukes of Hazzard, is now a place for shows that aren’t doing well, or don’t require much promotion; Stephen Bowie, a TV historian who runs the Classic TV History blog, says networks may have decided this was a night when “the most desirable audience was out partying.” But recently, some success stories have emerged. Grimm, a supernatural mystery on NBC, is one of the network’s few popular scripted shows, and Shark Tank, ABC’s remake of a reality franchise that has already appeared in Canada as Dragons’ Den, has seen its Friday ratings go up every season.
What does it take to succeed on Fridays? It may help to appeal to people who are most likely to be home: children. One of the last successful and profitable Friday lineups was ABC’s “TGIF” in the 1990s, where writers were asked to make shows for kids and their parents. Michael Price, a writer and producer for The Simpsons who wrote for the ABC comedy Teen Angel, recalls, “We all knew going in that it was specifically a TGIF show, meant to complement the established TGIF shows,” such as Boy Meets World. And the writers tried to please themselves while “always keeping in mind that we were a show aimed at the whole family.”
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
“Right now, people are hitting it big or not at all”
Comedy is more valuable to TV networks than it has been in years. Too bad it’s also more unpopular than it has been in years. With comedies like The Big Bang Theory among the few hits in TV, several networks expanded their comedy lineups this year, but the results were as disastrous as a sitcom plot: not a single new show became a hit. “Right now,” says Jonathan Davis, executive vice-president of comedy development for 20th Century Fox Television, “people are hitting it big or not at all.”
Ironically, these unpopular comedies may be the result of trying to be more popular. NBC’s new comedies, including Go On, a comeback for Matthew Perry (Friends), and Animal Practice, with a monkey as one of the regulars, were announced as part of what network president Robert Greenblatt called a strategy to “broaden our audience and broaden what the network does,” But these shows wound up with ratings identical to NBC’s cult comedies like Community and 30 Rock. Networks and writers can’t seem to help making comedies that appeal only to a niche audience.
Some attribute this to what Canadian TV scholar Myles McNutt calls “fragmented comedy audiences,” with people of every age group preferring different types of comedy: a show that seems mainstream to viewers aged 18-34 may seem forbidding to older viewers. “You want to build something that doesn’t just appeal just to 18-34,” says Fox’s Davis. “We sometimes get in trouble when people feel something is too niche.” But only a few shows, such as Big Bang Theory and Fox’s Modern Family have shown an ability to appeal to multiple age groups. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
Successful TV dramas are unfolding one episode at a time, and procedurals are taking notes
We used to know a TV story was almost over when there were only 10 minutes left in the episode. Today most shows aren’t over until the series is cancelled. The serialized drama, where stories unfold over multiple instalments, was once mostly confined to soap operas, but serials like the Showtime cable series Homeland are increasingly winning the awards. And times aren’t so great for the procedural, the TV form where every episode is a self-contained story, usually a crime that gets solved. “I don’t think there’s any question that any writer would prefer to write serialized stories,” says Hart Hanson, a Canadian TV writer and creator of the successful procedural Bones. TV critic Alan Sepinwall, whose new book The Revolution Was Televised is an inside look at the best TV dramas of the last 15 years, puts it more starkly: “Procedurals are still by and large designed for people who don’t want to have to think too hard, or watch every episode.”
These days it’s often the more complicated serials that pull in the ratings. The biggest hit dramas on cable are AMC’s serialized zombie adventure The Walking Dead, which pulled in 10 million viewers for its season premiere, and FX’s equally serialized biker drama Sons of Anarchy. The only new drama this fall with high ratings is NBC’s serial Revolution, whose premiere attracted 11 million viewers interested in a world where the power has gone out and no one knows who did it or why it happened. There hasn’t been a breakout procedural hit in several years, which may explain why networks are starting to move away from that form. The USA network’s Burn Notice, a popular adventure show about a former secret agent, used to focus on weekly adventures where the hero helped ordinary people fight mob bosses or drug dealers. The creator, Matt Nix, told the Hollywood Reporter that he recently switched “from a largely self-contained, episodic show into a highly serialized drama.” And it worked: the ratings have gone up now that there are more cliffhangers. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, October 8, 2012 at 7:30 AM - 0 Comments
Cue the mutton chops and corsets—networks are crazy about period pieces
A new kind of reality TV is taking over our small screens: fictional shows in real historical settings. Thanks to series like Downton Abbey and Mad Men, actors are appearing in period pieces much more often, wearing costumes and makeup to match. Steve Buscemi has a carnation in his lapel and slicked-back hair on the 1920s show Boardwalk Empire. Tom Weston-Jones wears big sideburns and an even bigger 19th-century hat on the BBC America drama Copper. And on Vegas, a new show starring Dennis Quaid as a lawman trying to clean up the city in the 1960s, Michael Chiklis plays a gangster who dresses like a character out of Guys and Dolls. “There’s never been any time as accepting of period pieces,” says Copper producer Christina Wayne. The question is whether this glut of period dramas will strain that acceptance to the limit.
There’s no doubt networks are more interested in period shows now than they were even a few years ago. BBC America chose Copper, set in New York following the U.S. Civil War, as its first U.S. production (though it’s filmed in Toronto). Former HBO head Chris Albrecht is trying to bring some attention to a different channel, Starz, with a show set in 1959 Miami called Magic City, while Mad Men network AMC has the downbeat anti-western Hell on Wheels, about the journeys of a former Confederate soldier. Greg Walker, who co-created Vegas for CBS, says far from being nervous about the cost or the setting, the network “has been really aggressive in pushing the period elements. They obviously like the sexiness.”
It’s still not clear whether audiences will find period pieces sexy on a weekly basis. Most of the successful ones have been stand-alone movies or miniseries, like the recent hit Hatfields & McCoys, which won Kevin Costner an Emmy for best lead actor. When a period show tries to get us to tune in for 22 episodes a year, it often bombs, like The Playboy Club or the ’60s stewardess soap Pan Am. “It’s untested territory whether there is a big-tent audience for a period show,” says Walker, whose Vegas got off to a good but not spectacular start on CBS and Global. “I don’t know what Mad Men’s numbers are on a season finale, but I’m fairly confident it wouldn’t get you three weeks’ run on CBS.”
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, January 23, 2009 at 8:00 PM - 1 Comment
How soon, viewers wonder, before the new judge tries to steal Paula’s job?
American Idol is back, but does anybody really care about the contestants? The most controversial and consequential thing about the new season is going on at the judges’ table, where the show has introduced its first new permanent judge: Kara DioGuardi, a 38-year-old songwriter who has written hits for Britney Spears and Pink, has a habit of calling people “honey” or “sweetie,” and has already been dubbed by the Village Voice as “the hottest anybody’s ever looked on Idol.” It’s the equivalent of adding a younger, cuter character to a long-running television hit, and as TV fans of all genres know, it’s a gambit that can either revitalize a show or ruin it. The biggest question of this season’s American Idol is not who’s going to win; it’s whether Kara will be a brilliant new addition or the character who finally makes the show jump the shark.
Though contestants on American Idol can sometimes become popular characters (Scott Macintyre, the blind contestant, is already on his way to becoming a cult figure), no characters are more important to the show than the judges, who are like the regular cast members of a scripted show. Each judge has a clearly defined personality: Simon Cowell is the vicious, sarcastic one, Paula Abdul is the clueless ditz, and Randy Jackson keeps the more eccentric characters grounded. The fun of most episodes is not the middlebrow song choices, but watching the judges react to them, and experiencing the famed tension between Simon and Paula. American Idol is really the story of three people with nothing in common who are forced to sit together and take orders from a dork like Ryan Seacrest; it’s not a music show, but the most popular sitcom around. When Idol tried adding new characters in its prime, it just seemed to be ruining a winning formula; an early attempt to add a second female judge, radio host Angie Martinez, lasted just five weeks.