Looking for a Summer Rebound

Nets Hope Returning Series Will Lift Ratings 6/02/2013 8:00 PM Eastern

Cable networks will look to generate some ratings sizzle this summer with a heavy dose of popular returning series to complement a batch of new scripted and reality fare.

Programmers are looking to rebound after cable networks’ year-to-year audience- share dip in 2012, mostly due to the strong performance of NBC’s 2012 Summer Olympics coverage.

Ad-supported cable networks drew a 72% share of primetime viewing in 2012, down from 74% in 2011, while the audience share for the Big Four broadcast networks increased to 29% last year compared to 26% in 2011.

Cable this summer will launch new episodes for more than 110 shows, the lion’s share of which will be from established programs.


That’s a shift from a decade ago, when new scripted and reality shows dominated the summer programming lineup.

Industry observers said cable networks have built a portfolio of popular hit shows over the years, which has lessened the need to launch new original programming during the summer months.

“Once cable networks established their [tentpole] shows, they brought them back year after year,” TV historian Tim Brooks said. “What’s happened is that cable has built up such a backlog of shows that they don’t need to have as many new ones to populate the summer.”

Indeed, cable’s reigning summer ratings champion USA Network is only launching two new original series this summer — its gritty scripted drama Graceland and reality series Summer Camp — while looking to keep its top spot with the return of several popular series, including Royal Pains, Necessary Roughness, Covert Affairs, Suits and the final season of Burn Notice.

TNT will also offer a mix of returning shows such as Falling Skies, Major Crimes and Rizzoli & Isles along with new programming such as scripted drama King & Maxwell and unscripted series The Hero and Cold Justice.

“We had a great summer last year, and a lot of our shows were renewed,” Michael Wright, president, head of programming for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies, said.

TNT’s expansion to a 12-month original programming schedule has diluted the pool of new, original shows that would typically debut during the summer, Wright added. Shows like the new Frank Darabont-produced, gangsterthemed drama Lost Angels will debut later this year instead of this summer.

“What you’re seeing is more shows being rolled out across the year,” he said. “The summer is great, but historically [fall/winter] has been a great time to debut shows. I think you’ll see a lot of our new shows premiering in June, July and December.”

Even ABC Family, which has traditionally capitalized on school vacation time to reach its target millennial audience with high-profile shows, will venture beyond the hot summer months to launch new programming. The network for the first time will launch a new scripted series, Ravenwood, in October, ABC Family president Michael Riley said.

The mystery/drama series, an offshoot of popular drama Pretty Little Liars, will debut after Liars’ annual Halloween-themed special episode.


The network is also expected next January to launch Chasing Life, a drama starring Italia Ricci as an ambitious young newspaper reporter who tries to balance her career aspirations with her family.

“We really feel like there’s an opportunity” outside of summer, Riley said. “We love the summer season, but we’re also looking to expand our launches across the year and really take advantage of times that make sense for us.”

The Disney outlet isn’t totally abandoning its summer roots. ABC Family will debut several new series from May to August, including scripted series Twisted and The Fosters, as well as game show Spell-Mageddon and reality series The Vineyard.

“We always look to summer to be an important time for us to launch all of our new and returning shows — it’s really the core of viewing for our audience,” Riley said. “What’s exciting about that is it’s the viewing habit of our millennial audience — there’s less distraction, from their standpoint.”


After a ratings falloff in summer 2012, cable networks plan to get viewers to tune in more by airing some familiar favorites.

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