Content

Cable Rolls Out Summer Funny

6/07/2010 6:50 AM Eastern

Cable networks are serious about fun this summer.

More than a dozen new
scripted series are expected to
roll out this summer as the industry
looks to continue its yearly
ratings momentum against its
broadcast rivals.

While several of the season’s
crop of scripted series will take
on weighty issues such as obesity
(ABC Family’s Huge) and
corporate and government malfeasance
(AMC’s Rubicon), most
of the shows are lighthearted
dramedies that network executives
say audiences are seeking in
these troubled financial times.

“These are tough economic
times and people have enough
to worry about,” said Michael
Wright, executive vice president
and head of programming
for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic
Movies (TCM). “The summer
is about fun, so you want your
TV to be entertaining and viewers
want to have a good time, and
I think this summer’s shows refl
ect that.”

This year, TV Land, A&E Network
and MTV will join such summer
scripted series veterans USA
Network, FX, TNT, AMC, Syfy and
ABC Family in the scripted arena,
which has proven to be a sizzlinghot
ratings producer during the
months of June, July and August.
In 2009, the five most-watched
new summer shows were all
non-reality shows, led by USA
Network’s medical show Royal
Pains
, which drew 7.1 million
viewers. That was good for third
place behind returning juggernauts
The Closer
(7.9 million viewers)
and Burn Notice (7.6 million),
among the most-watched shows
last summer.

The new scripted originals in
2009 helped cable average a 65
household share for the year,
compared to the broadcast networks’
23 share for the summer.
TV historian Tim Brooks said this
year’s crop of new and returning
series should continue to push
cable’s march toward a 70 household
share, despite a more competitive
summer lineup from
ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox which
includes several scripted shows
along with a slew of reality fare.

“The cable networks should
continue their dominance over
broadcast, but the industry has to
remain aggressive in developing
new and original shows,” Brooks
said. “It certainly won’t happen
overnight, but if cable’s not careful,
the broadcast networks could
turn this around and make some
inroads into cable’s share lead.”

Cable-network executives said
they’re armed and ready to serve
audiences with quality scripted
fare.

“The broadcast networks have
gotten much more aggressive in
programming summer months,
but they’re still somewhat constrained
by their business model
in that they still have to repeat
a lot of their regular season programming
to properly monetize
it,” Wright said. “You want to give
these new shows every chance in
the world to be sampled, so it just
makes sense to put these shows
on in the summer.”

For many networks launching
new scripted shows, the fiercest
competition may come not from
the broadcast networks but from
elsewhere on cable. New series
will have to build an audience
in the face of an unprecedented
number of returning scripted series.
Series such as crime drama
Memphis Beat (TNT) and CIA based
drama Covert Affairs (USA),
will go up against some of cable’s
most popular shows in TNT’s The
Closer
and USA Network’s White
Collar
and FX’s Rescue Me.

Despite the internal and external
competition, A&E Network
president and general manager
Bob DeBitetto believes the summer
remains the best time for cable
networks to launch original
scripted fare.

“Summer still provides cable
networks less competition for
viewers than the fall or winter, when
the broadcast networks come
back with their shows and marketing,”
he said. “However, when
it comes to winning the hearts
and minds of viewers, there’s a
lot more competition during the
summer, which means we have to
be more clever and more aggressive
on the marketing and promotional
side.”

To that end, A&E has partnered
with book retailer Barnes & Noble
to promote its new scripted series
The Glades, which stars actor
Matt Passmore as a Chicago
detective who finds himself involved
in solving atypical crimes
within the supposed quiet confines
of the Florida Everglades.
The summer-long campaign includes
an in-store promotion for
the series as well as the development
of a paperback novel based
on the show’s pilot.

“It’s one of the things that we
were able to find in an effort to
break out of the summer series
clutter,” he said.

For networks like TNT and
USA, returning series actually
help rather than hurt their freshman
counterparts. USA president
Bonnie Hammer said the
network will use veteran shows
like Burn Notice, Psych and White
Collar
to market and promote
Covert Affairs. White Collar will
serve as a lead-in to Covert beginning
in July.

“We have the bulk of our returning
series launching in the
summer, so we believe the success
from the existing series
creates a halo effect for our new
series,” she said. “To us, it’s really
free marketing for the new show
— if you like [the lead-in show],
then most likely you’ll like what
follows.”

TNT used its National Basketball
Association playoffs coverage
in May to help promote its summer lineup, which it hopes
will yield strong returns for its
new scripted shows Memphis Beat, starring Jason Lee as a
quirky Memphis police detective
with an intimate connection to
the city, and Rizzoli & Isles, which
follows the exploits of two Boston-
based female friends — one’s
a detective and the other a medical
examiner.

“We have a lot of audience
flow coming to the network, so
your own programming is typically
your best marketing platform,”
Wright said. “There’s a
lot out there and a lot to break
through, but we have The Closer
to lead into Rizzoli & Isles and
HawthoRNe as lead-in to Memphis
Heat
, so the combination of
strong marketing and great platforms
is helpful.”

AMC will look to build on the
success of its Emmy-Award winning
drama Mad Men to help
launch its latest scripted thriller
series, Rubicon. The series,
which explores the drama-filled
life of a New York City think-tank
analyst, will lead into Mad Men
on Sunday nights beginning in
July, according to AMC president
Charlie Collier.

The dark nature of Rubicon and
its conspiracy-theory look and
feel will appeal to AMC’s core
viewers, Collier added.

“If you look at what’s going on
in the world today, it is absolutely
relevant,” he said. “This is a moment
in time where the cultural
imperative is pointing toward
themes of who can you trust and
who’s actually running things …
trust in government and big business
has never been more relevant.”

Other cable networks have
moved in the other direction,
choosing to emphasize lighter,
more humorous fare this summer
to appeal to consumers weary
from the unpredictable economy
and turmoil in world affairs.

“I believe, in this economy and
this environment, people really
want more upbeat, aspirational,
fun escapism shows,” USA’s Hammer
said. “It’s become harder for
some of the well-written, dark
critically acclaimed series in cable
to get a big commercial audience
for it.”

Several networks will venture
into the comedy space — FX
(Louie); MTV (The Hard Times of
R.J. Beger and Warren the Ape
);
ABC Family (Melissa & Joey); TBS (Are We There Yet?), Comedy Central (Big Lake) and
TV Land (Hot in Cleveland) will
look to tickle audience funny
bones during a period dominated
by serial cop dramas and police
dramedies.

“We know from our audience
that there is a pent-up demand for
comedies in the marketplace, and
we think that it’s an alternative to
what’s out there,” TV Land president
Larry Jones said. “We see a lot
of reality shows and the scripted is
really more drama and dramedies,
so from a traditional, multi-camera
sitcom comedy standpoint we will
definitely be unique in the environment.”

May
June