Wednesday, December 16, 2015

THE DAVID LETTERMAN CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

Yeah I know that overnight ratings don't tell the whole story but they still matter and, at one time, they mattered a lot. Let me take you back to a time when overnights were the crack of the business and tell you a Holiday story I like to call "The Miracle of the Overnight Christmas Eve Ratings" and how a young Network Research executive asked Santa for ratings that didn't exist and received this amazing baseball jacket as his Christmas present.


I first told this story in May after David Letterman said his farewells to late night television but with Christmas approaching I thought I would retell it in hopes of it becoming a Holiday classic.

Here it is.

I was at NBC for the entire run of “Late Night with David Letterman”. I remember going to a taping with my very pregnant wife. After our daughter was born Dave kept us company every Saturday afternoon as we sat down to watch the week’s taped episodes while our daughter took a long nap.
Full disclosure. I was down in Florida for the famous meeting to determine whether Jay Leno or David Letterman would succeed the great Johnny Carson as host of the “Tonight Show”. I fully supported my boss Warren Littlefield’s decision to put Jay behind the desk. He asked me to come down to the GE meeting in Florida for advice, guidance and support. I believe we made the right broadcasting decision and both men had successful careers as late night hosts.
One of my prize possessions from my time at the Peacock is a leather sleeved LATE NIGHT baseball jacket that arrived at my desk in early 1991. It was from someone who worked closely with Dave and it was in appreciation of a little thing I did for her on Christmas Day 1990. Now that Dave has retired I thought I would share the story with you. Let’s just say it takes a certain type of person to host a late night show. I’ll leave it at that.

Back in 1990 I was running Audience Research (i.e. the ratings guy) at NBC in New York. This was a time before emails, smart phones and personal computers. Processing overnight ratings was a bitch and a few of us had company laptops that hooked us into the NBC mainframe where we could pull the overnight ratings. It was a very elaborate process. We would then call in to a ratings hotline and read the numbers that could be accessed by NBC execs and others.
There are certain days during the year when AC Nielsen would not release numbers. One of those days was Christmas Day. Christmas Day 1990 was a Tuesday and, on Christmas Eve, both of our late night shows were repeats.

Christmas morning around 10AM I receive a call at home from one of David Letterman’s top assistants. She was the individual who provided Dave with the ratings each morning. She called me (I was amazed that she could track down my home number) because Dave wanted the Christmas Eve rating for Late Night. I told her that Nielsen was not releasing ratings and that Dave would have to wait until the following day. She thanked me and I figured that was that. Well a few minutes later she calls me back. Dave didn’t believe her and insisted that he get the overnights. I told her I would if I could but I can’t and that I would be happy to explain it to Dave myself. She calls me back a few minutes later and is now in full panic mode. “Dave doesn’t want to talk to you he just wants his ratings and I think he will fire me if I don’t get them to him.” I told her “Look I don’t have them but I can make something up that will be pretty close since late night ratings don’t change all that much, and I will factor in it being a repeat and the lower viewing levels for Christmas Eve”. So we became co-conspirators and I produced an overnight rating. She was very grateful and I figured I had done my good deed for the day. A few minutes go by and I get another call from Dave’s assistant. “I’m sorry for this but Dave is now asking for the overnight ratings for EACH MARKET” I told her to give me an hour and I proceeded to generate made up ratings for EVERY metered market.

Dave never found out that those ratings were made up (they turned out to be pretty close to the real numbers) and I got a cool LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN baseball jacket out of it.


Thanks for everything Dave.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

LOOK MA I'M IN THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Alex Inter is a very bright young man who recently interviewed me for The Michigan Daily. I thought I would share his article with you all.

https://www.michigandaily.com/section/arts/masked-scheduler-interview

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

THE 2015 MASKED TEN

Time to share with you my ten favorite shows of 2015. According to a small handful of people who write about the business there's too much TV. That's total bullshit. There's as much TV as is needed to feed the myriad platforms that demand content. This will all shake out at some point and, sadly, several of the shows that fill most year end lists (including this one) may disappear in the not too distant future. So enjoy your favorite shows while you can and share them with your friends. Here are my faves (sort of in the order of faving) along with six runners up:

THE AMERICANS - FX
JUSTIFIED - FX
SILICON VALLEY - HBO
THE KNICK - CINEMAX
RECTIFY - SUNDANCE TV
FARGO - FX
JANE THE VIRGIN - THE CW
HOMELAND - SHOWTIME
MR. ROBOT - USA
THE RETURNED - SUNDANCE TV

The next six

SOUTH PARK - COMEDY CENTRAL
BILLY ON THE STREET - TRUTV
NXT - WWE NETWORK
EMPIRE - FOX
DEUTSCHLAND 83 - SUNDANCE TV
CATASTROPHE - AMAZON

So there they are. I prefer drama to comedy, I like a lot of shows on FX and SUNDANCE TV and only have two broadcast shows among the sixteen. I'm sure TRANSPARENT would have been on this list had I waited and had the time to watch all the episodes so I will reserve a space for it on next year's list assuming it doesn't disappoint....it won't. I wasn't trying to be a jerk by including NXT among the runners up and maybe I will write a blog entry as to why I never miss an episode.

I am not saying that these were the best shows of 2015 nor am I advocating that you watch any of them. Don't be angry if your favorite is not here....it's your favorite. There's a lot of great television out there. Don't complain about it or bemoan it, CELEBRATE IT!!!!! 





Monday, December 7, 2015

THE BOOK OF LIFE RECAP

Twenty shows premiered on the five broadcast networks this fall. They were all entered into The Book of Life. Entries were made following three telecasts. Here's the summary:

BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)
MINORITY REPORT
HEROES REBORN
THE PLAYER
BLOOD AND OIL
CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
PEOPLE ARE TALKING
WICKED CITY

WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)
THE MUPPETS
GRANDFATHERED

SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish the full season)
LIFE IN PIECES
ROSEWOOD
GRINDER

SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)
BLINDSPOT
LIMITLESS
SCREAM QUEENS
QUANTICO
CODE BLACK
DR.KEN
SUPERGIRL
CHICAGO MED

So how did I do now that we are pretty much through the fourth quarter. Well I may have been a bit harsh on HEROES REBORN although I don't expect it to return for another season. I like CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND....a lot. Happy CW ordered more episodes but still with that JANE THE VIRGIN had a bit more support in its second season. THE MUPPETS and GRANDFATHERED look like they will go beyond 13 but I don't expect either to return for another year. LIFE IN PIECES and ROSEWOOD have probably increased their chances of returning for a second season. I still think the eight shows I thought would return for a second season will do just that.

Schedulers are generally a pretty conservative bunch when it comes to advocating the cancellation of a show. Historically they have operated in a world where development is a game and an addiction. There is a belief that 'we can always do better" when all the evidence points to the reality that we are far more likely to do worse.

Early in my scheduling career I asked the NBC audience measurement group the following question: In the fall, how many hours of new programming can we put on before we are better off keeping the current shows? I asked this not specifically about NBC but about network television in general. The answer: After two hours a network is better off holding on to what they've got than in adding more new product.

I asked the question out of frustration with the culture of network TV where there were far more people interested in developing and marketing new stuff than there were people in preserving and nurturing the current shows. Although I showed this research to whoever would listen we continued, as did the other networks on most occasions (this was the early 90's), to add far more than two hours of new product every fall.

There are several reasons why the broadcast network share of the audience has eroded over time. There are many that were beyond our control; but I do believe that the obsession with adding new product was something we could control....and we didn't. The good thing about all this talk of the aggregated audience may finally convince executives to believe what schedulers have known for decades: Stick with what you've got. So, for me, I hope more shows are given a shot at growing for a second season. I do believe that some of the rules of the game need to change so that there is less pressure on the business to cancel series.

Ladies and Gentlemen The Crown Prince of Reggae Mr. Dennis Brown





Wednesday, December 2, 2015

THE BOOK OF LIFE - PART 13

It's been three episodes so it's time to enter CHICAGO MED into The Book of Life. Here are the four paths that a new show can go down:

BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)
WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)
SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish full the season)
SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)

Before I pronounce judgement a little housekeeping. I am going to introduce a fifth fate. The networks have figured out a way to cancel a show without cancelling it and that's this notion of "trimming" the order. Trimming is sort of a netherworld between abject failure (Shiva) and playing out a 13 episode order (B'nai Mitzvah). Starting with The next show to be entered into The Book of Life (I believe Superstore) there will be a fifth potential entry LET'S GO TO A BRIS (see what I did there?) which indicates the show is toast but the network is in denial so they snip the order.

OK Chicago Med

This is a business of failure and it's quite difficult for broadcast networks to program 22 or 15 hours of series every week. Over the history of the business there have been forms which can fill up several hours of a schedule so as to minimize the chances of risk. Movie nights (both theatricals and made-for TV movies) would often occupy two or three nights of a schedule. By the mid-90's News Magazines started to supplant movies as a go to vehicle for filling up time slots (by the way I have a cool story about cancelling the NBC Monday Movie....remind me). By the beginning of the new century, reality shows, especially reality competition shows like American Idol could fill up three to four hours a week.

......and then there's the "colonized hit"

Let me spin a yarn for you. I'm at NBC and sometime in the 98-99 season we find out that Dick Wolf, the creator of the wildly successful LAW & ORDER is going to give us another series for the 1999-2000 season. It will be a police procedural and will also take place in New York City. It will be called "Sex Crimes". I love LAW & ORDER and there is a love letter to the show from my late lamented blog among the postings here. We ordered SEX CRIMES to series without a script and there would not be a completed pilot before the upfront in May....but, hey, it's Dick Wolf.

As we were approaching the upfront something happened. We started to hear from our Sales Department that they were having trouble with the title SEX CRIMES. Advertisers were balking and this was going to be a problem. We were coming up with all sorts of alternative titles when one day the SEX CRIMES script arrives. Here were the first two sentences of the script:

In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.

I called up Scott Sassa who was running things at the time and I asked him if he had read the script. He hadn't yet. I read him the first two lines and said "Why are we driving ourselves crazy. Why don't we just call it LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT ?" A colonized hit was born.

CBS has has a lot of luck with colonized hits....CSI and NCIS. These colonized hits reduce the cost of failure on a network schedule. They also create universes which allow for crossovers during sweeps which often boost the ratings for all the shows. They are often mocked by the Television Intelligentsia but they are a valuable asset to a network.

Dick Wolf has made NBC Universal a fortune with the  LAW & ORDER franchise and he's doing it again with his Chicago shows so, regarding CHICAGO MED well duh SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE.

Next week I'll look back at all the Book of Life postings so far and see how I did.

Monday, November 23, 2015

FUN WITH RATINGS PART 1

Last Friday FOX made a "bold" announcement that they were no longer going to publish or acknowledge Live+Same Day ratings. I received some requests (which I turned down) to comment on this. You see I have a bit of experience in the ratings game and have been involved in some issues somewhat analogous to this.

In September 1987 the TV industry switched over to People Meters and, as the 1988 upfront was approaching, Networks and Buyers were at odds over how to account for lower usage levels in estimating ratings for the new season. The upfront was stalled. I was VP of Audience Research at the time and I proposed a formula for breaking the stalemate. It involved estimating TV usage for the 1988-89 season by using pre-people meter data from the prior three years. Who knows if it made any sense but everyone bought into it and we moved the upfront.

That same upfront there was a crises in selling Saturday Morning kids. Back in the 80's Saturday Morning was a viable programming block and NBC with SMURFS (90 minutes), ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, Mr. T, PUNKY BREWSTER (animated) and SAVED BY THE BELL, was the leader in the Day-part. Not surprisingly, with the advent of people meters, the 2-11 ratings on Saturday Morning collapsed. We all knew that kids were not going to push the buttons without adult supervision. I came up with the idea of selling the more passive measure, Household with Children 2-11, as a substitute for the 2-11 rating making the case that when a child turned on the set the household meter was running even if the kid did not punch in. I went around to the agencies with our Daytime sales group and we were able to make that the standard for the first upfront of the new era of people meters.

Early in my scheduling career at NBC I helped lead the charge to change the discussion among Television writers from Households to Adults 18-49. We made the argument that 18-49's was the currency of the business. It was the metric on which most buys were made and we believed that every other form of entertainment was evaluated by some form of economic transaction and the same should be true for television. Sure Persons 2+ or, back in the 90's, households measure overall popularity but there needed to be some recognition that economic success was measured by the number of 18-49 eyeballs who come to your shows and that should be reported. It took a while but eventually the 18-49 demo became part of the conversation.

I came to FOX in 2000 and, in addition to scheduling the network, I had Research reporting to me. As the impact of DVR, VOD and streaming of shows was being captured by Nielsen in the Live+3 and Live+7 ratings, I sat down with television writers on more than one occasion to try to give them perspective on what this explosion of data meant. Simply put: as the viewer becomes untethered from the date/time/network matrix it takes longer to capture all the consumption of a program and Nielsen is not yet prepared to report it all to the industry.One thing I NEVER told the TV writers was to ignore the Fast Nationals (L+SD ratings) which we get around 8AM out here in La La Land (11AM in the real world). They have their jobs to do and they are not going to not report ratings if they are made available to them by a broadcast network. I felt our job was to give them honest context on all these metrics so that they could write about them as intelligently as possible.

The Live+SD ratings tell a story. They don't tell the COMPLETE story but they do give us a pretty good read on the relative success of television shows. I truly believe that the networks have done a pretty good job of educating the Television press on the new realities of the business and I see more and more stories about L+3 and L+7 in the trades. For the general public they just want to know what the popular shows are and the relative position of shows doesn't change all that much from the L+SD to the L+7. As I have said on several occasions, what delayed viewing tells us is that the rich get richer and the poor get a little less poor.

Before I retired from the biz, internally I was asked my opinion about stopping the reporting of L+SD ratings. I always gave the same answer: Unless you get all the networks to agree to stop the reporting I would not do it. Those who want the numbers will get them and you allow others to tell your story for you. Why would the other networks stop releasing them when they have a good story to tell? Why would the press or the consumers wait five days for a Live+3 rating which will not significantly change the relative strength of shows? Everyone knows that there is more viewing to shows than is reported in the first day of viewing. We would just look silly and petty unless this was an industry position.

I started off telling you some tales of my adventures in trying to change perception of TV ratings in the industry. What all the stories have in common is that, whether at NBC or at FOX, I was able to try to affect change from a position of strength. We were the #1 network so we had the ability to take a leadership position. FOX is the #4 network right now and I believe that is true regardless of the measure that you use. I have faith in the current leadership. They have only been there a year but I believe they are smart, adult and more populist in their taste than recent regimes. No matter what they say publicly I have to believe that senior management is looking at the L+SD numbers every morning. There's nothing wrong with waking up, seeing a number and bragging about it. I don't for the life of me understand why they want to take that joy away from themselves. I woke up this morning. I could go to my pal Joe Adalian's Twitter feed @TVMoJoe or click on TV By the Numbers and there are the L+SD ratings FOR ALL THE NETWORKS. The dialogue has already changed. What's the point?

There's an epilogue which I will address soon. This is a business of failure. If we are claiming that more shows are successful because of the added viewership over time are we changing the structure of the business to accommodate this? I'll talk about that and other issues in the new reality of Television.


   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Book of Life - Part 12

I'm going to make this quick. Wicked City...I ordered the deli platter but I can't get myself to pay a shiva call. This show was pretty much an abomination from the start and a classic case of network cable envy. Yesterday I wrote about SUPERGIRL and CBS' attempts to break out of its wheelhouse. ABC has had a lot of success recently, and historically, with family comedies (their secret sauce is smart kids by the way) and female-appeal soaps. Why they would put on such a misogynist piece of crap as Wicked City is beyond comprehension to me. Well it sort of isn't.

There is a lot about erosion in network television that is driven by forces beyond the ability of network execs to stop. That doesn't mean that they are not accountable for some of the erosion and networks who know who they are, and understand that they are broadcasters, have a better chance of succeeding. When they want to be what they are not they fail. ABC you're smarter than this. Stick to your knitting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Book of Life - Part 11

Time to enter SUPERGIRL into The Book of Life. To review here are the possible entries:

BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)
WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)
SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish full the season)
SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)

 Let's start here. CBS is a very smart broadcast network....the smartest of the "Big 5" in fact. They continue to believe in the Big Tent approach to programming so, in addition to being in the hunt for 18-49's (in part because of the decline in that demo among NBC, ABC and FOX) they cast the widest net and manage to get everyone. They have a formula for success in terms of their programming:
Variations on proceedurals
Colonized hits in CSI: and NCIS:
Multi-cam comedies that adhere to the situation comedy structure as opposed to the dramadies, warmadies, sadadies and comamas that are often passed off as comedy today.
Smart, well produced reality competition shows 
60 Minutes 
Football in the Fall

Here's the thing about CBS, whenever they try to move away from what works on their network their audience generally bitch slaps them right back to their sweet spots. By the way, several of those noble attempts were really good, they just weren't what the CBS viewer is looking for.

CBS is smart. They have used the summer to expand on what their audience generally consumes by offering fantasy/science fiction series and, in the tradition of CBS, sticking with them for at least a second summer.

This fall, in a continuing attempt to expand on their offerings, CBS premiered LIFE IN PIECES  and SUPERGIRL. I set a place for LIFE IN PIECES at the Sedar table and I still think there's a chance we will see it at next year'a Kol Nidre service.

Although it has declined from its inflated Big Bang leadin for its premiere, and dropped several tenths from its second telecast I'm going to be bullish on SUPERGIRL and expect to SEE IT AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE. SUPERGIRL is going head to head with an improved GOTHAM (yeah scheduling still matters to some) so I would expect to see it somewhere else next season paired up with a compatible action adventure show. CBS often moves shows in their second season (primarily because they're all sort of the same) so keeping it makes more sense that launching a new show. Also, given the CBC/CW connection I would not be surprised to see some synergistic games going on over the year.

Here's the thing though, the greatest obstacle to SUPERGIRL'S renewal is itself. I have watched all three episodes. Jeb Bush is right, Melissa Benoist is a very appealing/likable lead but the show is over the top silly and juvenile and not in a good way. It's very CW...not that there's anything wrong with that.






Monday, November 2, 2015

AND ON THE NINTH DAY JACK RESTED


This story's gonna start in a weird place...COSTCO...about three years ago...I was doing my usual Sunday run through the store when there was a display for the first six seasons of 24 on DVD. I stopped in my tracks. Couldn't move for a few minutes and actually tears came to my eyes...............I really am blessed...first and foremost always for my family...but I have also had an opportunity over three decades to, in a very small way, help shape, influence, kibitz, whatever culture.

When I came across the 24 display it hit me how fragile these shows are, how one decision along the way can make the difference between a cultural phenomenon and yet another show on the television scrap heap. How rare it really is in this fakakta business for something truly unique and special to come along; and what an enormous responsibility it is for the producers, the studio and the network to nurture and protect these rare gems Yesterday FOX announced that this May, 24 will be ending its 8 year run. As someone who was there from the beginning I thought I would share some moments from my small role in all this.

24 was the last drama ordered to pilot in our 2001 drama development. After I read the pilot script I emailed David Nevins, our top developer at the time, to tell him how excited I was about making this and of course he, along with most of us on the 4th floor at FOX, concurred...but you know....the food chain...it's too serialized, it's about terrorism, will women watch it, what if it bombs and we pull it before the conclusion...all valid questions but it was just too good not to make, so we did.

It was an awesome, high testing pilot with a breakout character brought to life by Kiefer, and we introduced an African American Presidential candidate to America. It was well received in our screenings. We debated the obstacles but it had to get on the schedule and we announced 24 for Tuesday nights at 9 in the Fall of 2001. FOX did not have a very good reputation for sticking with shows back then so Sandy Grushow and Gail Berman were bombarded with questions at the Television Critics tour about our commitment to running all 24 episodes. We knew that we were taking an enormous risk on several levels and we would be skewered if we pulled it. Didn't matter, we were going to roll the dice on this one.

After we announced 24, Warren Littlefield, my good friend and former boss, called to tell me that he had suggested to Joel Surnow (you all know who he is) that Joel call me and start a conversation.  Joel and I talked often that summer and the dialogue continued throughout Joel's connection with the show...including one fateful call after Season 3 which I will get to later. 

Joel was very proud of the pilot and its unique way of story telling. I tried to tell him the obstacles to success for a show like 24 but he was convinced we had a hit on our hands. Then shit happened on September 11. We discussed whether we delay the premiere of the show. We looked at the pilot again and realized that there was one very dramatic scene (a passenger plane explodes in mid-air) that had to be removed. We needed to reevaluate the marketing campaign. We made the corrections and, since the show wasn't premiering until November, we stayed the course.

The events of September 11th gave 24 a whole new meaning and relevance. In addition to figuring out the whole marketing strategy for 24, Sandy Grushow and I had a difference of opinion regarding the scheduling of the premiere. I wanted to premiere it as a two hour "event". The zen of scheduling is "the best lead in to a show is itself" and, having seen the second episode I felt that airing episode two immediately after episode one might convince skeptics that this was more than a gimmick. Also, getting viewers two hours into the story might hook them even better. Sandy wanted to give it a Simpsons lead in. Great flow and compatibility (sarcasm). I lost that debate.

The critics were solidly behind the show but, given the network, were wary of our commitment to keep the show on the air. Also was this really a FOX show? It was smart and adult. Shouldn't 24 be on say NBC with it's upscale, educated audience?

Here was the irony.  Over at NBC a recently installed idiot of a Network President...Jeff Zucker...was plotting to destroy the premiere of 24 with a classic NBC upscale show...FEAR FACTOR...the irony of all this was that while Zucker was in the initial phases of a scorched earth campaign to destroy all that was great about my Alma Mater, Gail Berman was transforming FOX from a network for 30 year old guys who live with their mother and date their hand into a smart alternative network, and 24 was a significant piece in that transition. Zucker waited until the last minute and announced a two hour Fear Factor would go against the premiere of 24. Jeff did us a big favor. Like most of his schemes (uh, Leno?) they blow up in his face and this was no exception.

Two things happened as a result of this move. The morning after the premiere of 24 the ratings were good but not great. I don't know if it was Fear Factor, an incompatible lead in or a marketing campaign that may not have captured the essence of the show (very tough to do) but before I had a chance to call Joel my phone rang and it was him...to this day I remember his exact words...."the ego has landed".  Joel, along with several of us at FOX, were so convinced we had a hit that the ratings threw us for a loop. We talked for a while about what happened and I reassured him that we were behind the show, the episodes were outstanding and we were going to tough it out. I think that the disappointment in the premiere ratings strengthened Joel's resolve to make this an epic show.

We never wavered and the following week, without Fear Factor (thank you Jeff) the ratings started moving in the right direction 24 went on to a phenomenal year in terms of ratings and creativity. As the season was winding down we faced a pivotal decision...whether of not to have Nina Myers (the first in a long line of CTU moles) kill Jack's wife Teri in the final episode of the season. As would be expected there were differing opinions. This show broke so many rules, how can we not end it in an unexpected and shocking way? Will fans of the show come back next season if we do not give them a satisfying upbeat ending?

Remember, 24 in its first season was, at its center, a family drama about Jack looking for his kidnapped daughter Kim. We shot two endings. We were in the scheduling room when David Nevins said we needed to make a decision and lock the final episode. David, Gail and I looked at the alternatives. I believe we went around the building and found some fans of the show and let them look at the alternatives, We debated and eventually decided that in the spirit of the show Teri Bauer would be killed. I think that was the most pivotal decision in the history of 24.

I remember the night of the finale watching the episode at home with Ms. Masked Scheduler. She was a huge fan of the show and she never wanted to know what was going to happen. I had no idea how she would react but I respect her TV instincts (an excellent picker of hits on all the networks). The scene came on and I'm waiting for the explosion of outrage. She shed some tears, looked at me and said "Well that's the show.".Jack was on his path and we had a hit on our hands.

The following season 24 came back to Tuesday night and for the next two years the show followed American Idol for the second half of its season. The ratings improved in year two but, typical of most television shows, we saw some erosion in season three. We did some audience research to see what was going on and something that stood out to me was the frustration among the fans about stretching out a show told in real time over a full television season. I had an epiphany. I called up MJ LaVaccare, my scheduling partner in crime, "Hey MJ let's do the Hebrew version of scheduling 24 (MJ knew by that I meant starting with the last episode of a show and scheduling backwards...a little scheduling trick). Let's assume it's on Monday away from the Idol disruptions and assume it is never preempted."

We played around with it and came up with a plan to launch it as a four hour Sunday/Monday event coming right out of an NFL playoff game and end it with a two hour finale in May. This meant saving 24 for mid-season. We would also follow the two night premiere of 24 with the two night four hour return of American Idol (entering it's fourth season). I called it our "shock and awe" moment….four hours of 24 followed by four hours of Idol.

I was about to have my second fateful call with Joel Surnow.  I walked him through the plan and the rationale for doing this. I promised him that, out of respect for him and the show, I would not approach my bosses with this idea unless he was fully on board. Joel bought in and the following year we made the move and the ratings improved. Season five ratings grew again and matched the all time high season two numbers Season five culminated in an Emmy for Kiefer and the show.

Yesterday, when FOX went out with the 24 announcement, I immediately flashed to that moment in COSTCO...looking at the 24 display and realizing just how random this business can be. How many hits were a decision away from disaster and how many misses may have followed a different path in different hands. 24 was one that we all got right. It's had a great run. Let's appreciate it for all it has accomplished.

No need (Tim Goodman) to be snarky about overstaying its visit...most shows do. But I will tell you that over the second half of this season Howard Gordon et al will throw everything but the kitchen sink at us. It's a wild final ride. Jack Bauer will live on and I'm looking forward to seeing him on Dancing With the Stars come Fall..he has time now and deserves to have some fun. So let's set up a perimeter and give thanks and praises to 24.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Book of Life - Part 10

I know it's a formality but I have to enter "People Are Talking".......Wait.....What....Oh right "Truth Be Told" into the Book of Life. It's a formality since the show has already been cut back but:
BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL

Hold on last night it jumped from a 0.6 in adults 18-49 last week to a 0.7 That's a 17% increase week-to-week. Did NBC make a mistake in cutting back the order?

Nah. The mistake NBC made was in not firing whatever moron actually thought that this could be a television show. I have to believe that NBC picked this up for reasons other than thinking that they had a hit on their hands. There are so many reasons why crap like this gets picked up to series. It never ends well but somebody got the money for their summer house or to pay their kids tuition at some private school. NBC hopes that when that person comes up with their next pitch (the one that might work) they remember that NBC wrote them a check. That's the way a lot of this crap gets on the air. Sometimes a development exec is looking for their next job. Sometimes an agent calls in a favor....because, really, NBC would pay a development exec to champion something like this?
There are noble failures. This is not one of them. 
End of rant.
Yisgadal v yiskadash bitches.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Book of Life - Part 9

OK this ones painful but......
 
To review, here are the possible entries for the Freshmen series:
 
BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)
WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)
SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish full the season)
SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)

So we now come to CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND. When I screened the pilot I had no idea what to expect and within ten minutes or so I was in WTF mode. But hey this was the CW which gave us one of the best shows on network television....all television...actually in JANE THE VIRGIN so I trusted them and respected that Pedowitz et al knew what to do with this very different, and in some ways off-putting, show. Pairing it up with JTV also sort of made sense although putting it in the 8PM slot as a leadin to JTV was risky (scheduling still matters gang) given that, last season JANE had THE ORIGINALS in front of it.

Well it was down to a 0.2 in the 18-49 demo for its crucial Week Three and JTV was a 0.3 last night. Given that CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND is a gimmick and with a lead who sort of gets more unlikeable with every episode and there's no real adversary here, I just don't know how this show can go on with any potential for growth. I know the CW ordered more scripts but are they willing to bring down a wonderful under watched show to keep this on the air or, at the very least, keep it in this time slot? I don't know what the CW has to replace CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND in the short run but my masked gut tells me

BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL

Sad. I really wanted this show to work but different does not necessarily translate into ratings.





 

Friday, October 23, 2015

WOULDA SHOULDA COULDA…. THE FIVE THAT GOT AWAY


Nowadays, in the world of delayed viewing, more shows are given a chance to succeed than ever before. Several shows on basic and premium cable channels often get a second season pickup even before the first episode airs. I wrote about these five shows in the era when you didn't get much of a chance to prove yourself. Schedulers generally preach patience but they have to deal with nervous executives who think that the next move will increase the performance of the network. Fortunately that is changing. Anyway, here's a post from the late lamented blog where I talk about five shows that might have had a different life with a little more love. Enjoy

Most network shows fail because they simply suck but every network has a handful of shows that, if promoted differently, scheduled better or with a bit of patience and consistency in scheduling might have gone down a different path. As the decade comes to a close I started thinking about some of the shows on FOX that, in my opinion, never had the opportunity to prove that they could have been more than what they became. Without breaking a sweat five came to mind.
THE BERNIE MAC SHOW.... one of the few scripted shows (HOUSE being the other) to really benefit from the AMERICAN IDOL lead in, this show was pushed aside in it's sophomore year for THE OC and never recovered. It was moved to Sunday night and then pulled until after the November Sweep so it never had the chance to premiere with the rest of the Sunday comedies. A real shame. One more year with an AI lead in and this show could have anchored a night of family comedies along with.....
GROUNDED FOR LIFE.... hammocked between THAT 70'S SHOW and TEMPTATION ISLAND, and then part of a Wednesday night comedy block this show was cast aside in season 3 after it was scheduled to lead out of THAT 70'S SHOW and lead into 24. Instead the powers that be opted for 70's repeats in the fall and Grounded never recovered on FOX...an offbeat "indie" family comedy that might have been on the brink of success.
KEEN EDDIE...Mark Valley and Sienna Miller in a smart, cool funny fish out of water cop show set in London was never given a chance to succeed. Kept off the in-season schedule KE wound up being paired up with AMERICAN JUNIORS in the summer....'nuff said...Oh well at least I got a chance to kiss Sienna Miller.
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL...Bradley Cooper, John Frances Daley, Bonnie Sommerville, John Cho, Frank Langella Errin Hayes and the dude who's now a cop in The Mentalist all together in a smart adult single camera comedy. It should have been saved for mid-season and put behind the Idol results show (it was a very high testing pilot by the way) but instead was sacrificed as the companion to a third season of Arrested Development...so we wound up with two failed series in the Fall.... ugh
STILL LIFE...this one never even had a chance to air...it was the Lovely Bones.... family drama told from the point of view of the son, a murdered police officer. Written by Marti Noxon and Kip Koenig (who wrote an awesome pilot for NBC called CHAOS THEORY) and starring Jensen Ackles and Morena Baccarin (Firefly space hooker, V lizard lady and later HOMELAND) this never found a place on the schedule. There were those at FOX who loved it and begged to put it on in the summer (6 episodes were made) but it was not meant to be.
It's possible that all five shows would never have succeeded but we'll never know.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

COMING TO A NETWORK NEAR YOU

Ok here's a post from my late lamented now returned Blog that I thought you all may enjoy. Before news magazines and reality competition shows networks would rely on movies, both originals and theatricals, to cover large chunks of the schedule. Back in the day acquiring and scheduling theatricals was an important part of the scheduling job so here are some memorable stories. Enjoy.

Last night we aired NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM. Theatricals used to be big events on the broadcast networks. Now they're just filler. I grew up in a world of double (sometimes triple) features. Most Saturdays I would get on the bus to downtown Flushing (for a dime), go to the Century Prospect or RKO Kieths theaters (about 35 cents) to watch a double feature and then have a "slice" and a Coke for 25 cents at Gloria's or Triple Nickel. For whatever reason I was always interested in what movies would play together. There were theaters in all the boroughs of New York that ran triple features and I would comb through the movie listings looking for those theaters, excited to see the combos. I grew up in the Grindhouse era so there were always interesting and weird movies playing. My parents had an 8mm movie projector and I would save my money and buy three minute reels of movies (mostly sci fi or Abbot Costello/3 Stooges) and I would play movie theater owner coming up with double features that I would show to my family. So I guess it was natural to eventually wind up in scheduling (although I still dream of owning a small revival theater) and one thing that I've enjoyed over the years was acquiring and scheduling movies for two broadcast networks. Theatricals used to be a big deal on the networks and were often key elements in sweeps strategies. Through most of my time scheduling NBC all three networks aired movies on Sunday night, and one of my favorite challenges was to figure out what movie (theatrical or made-for) to schedule against the two alternatives. When I was in research, living in Queens, I would walk my dog Bella through my neighborhood on Sunday night and look in windows to see which network movie was being watched. I would report my results to Brandon Tartikoff. He expected me to get arrested one day. Now that this era is coming to an end, I thought I would share some of my favorite stories about scheduling and acquiring theatricals on broadcast television. 

      JURASSIC PARK/SCHINDLER'S LIST.....  While at NBC I worked closely with John (the Godfather) Agoglia to acquire theatricals. John would solicit my opinion on the movies, asking me how I would use them strategically and how many runs of a movie did I think we could air. The deal that I will always remember was for Jurassic Park. We desperately wanted to get it, knowing that it would be a huge weapon in a sweep (it was) and we were willing to over pay, as were the other networks. What sealed the deal for us was that we agreed to include Schindler's List in the buy. We were also willing to accept Steven Spielberg's conditions as to how the movie could air on broadcast television. JP was a big success for us in terms of ratings and profits but we were not sure what to do with Schindler's List. We took a gamble and aired it in a February sweep. We conformed to all the stipulations and our Sales peeps went out looking for a single sponsor for the movie. Of course we went to our parent company GE who passed. Then Ford stepped up. They were so supportive that they did not take advantage of the opportunity to insert a commercial during the intermission. We were all nervous as to whether the movie would get a rating but we were proud to have acquired the movie and to have aired it in a respectful way. We woke up on Monday morning to surprisingly large ratings. I called up my good friend in Sales to thank him for all that he had done to make this happen. He was in a foul mood because he had just got off the phone with Bob Wright, the head of NBC, who, rather than congratulating my friend, wanted to know why we hadn't approached GE about sponsoring the now high rated movie. Being involved in airing Schindler's List on a broadcast network is still one of the most satisfying moments of my career and it also reinforced one of the golden rules of television: No good deed goes unpunished.
KINDERGARTEN COP.....Early in my scheduling career at NBC we bought two movie packages from Universal where all the films bypassed cable and went directly to the network. Both packages featured a few "blockbusters" and then we needed to cherrypick a bunch of movies to round out the buy.  The fun was finding the gems among the rest of the litter....but more on that later. One package included Kindergarten Cop as one of the "A" movies and part of my job was to decide how many times I would air it. We would then spread the cost of the movie over the runs. I think I said that I could run KC six or seven times. It was another home run in a sweep and I ran the sprockets off of it. I started getting angry calls from affiliate GM's who begged me not to run it again but I ignored them and starting making bets with some of the GM's as to what the rating would be for the 6th or 7th run. I made a lot of money on that movie.
TREMORS.....This one was a gem among the runts in the Universal package and Tremors wound up as one of the top 5 movies of the season in 18-49 adults. No one believed the ratings the morning after it aired but those were the days when counter programming really mattered and I put it against two very "female" skewing movies. Another hidden gem was FRIED GREEN TOMATOES which I aired in a May sweep on Mother's Day. This movie was a textbook example of how research can help in scheduling the network. We did concept tests on all our movies (including theatricals) and this one had an amazingly high interest and intent to view score. We also did competitive research putting FGT against potential movies on the other two nets and it did surprisingly well. I took a gamble and put it in a sweep. I got one of my "Don't come in to the office tomorrow if this doesn't work" speeches from Don Ohlmeyer but there was just too much positive research on this movie. FGT popped and we repeated it against the AMA's on a Monday night and I think we beat them. I sent a plate of fried green tomatoes to my counterpart in scheduling at ABC to rub it in.....I used to be a real dick back then (some would say I still am). Speaking of being a dick.
BACKDRAFT was another movie that was part of the Universal package and helped us big time in a sweep. We had three runs (I believe) of the movie and I was down to my final run. Here's how I used it: One day Lindy DeKoven, our head of movies and mini-series, called me to say that FOX had just scheduled an off-night episode of Beverly Hills 90210 right up against the world premiere of a Monday made-for-TV movie which starred 90201 star Tiffani Amber Theissen. Lindy told me that the star and the producers were ballistic and I had to do something. I explained there really wasn't much I could do but to appease her I called Doug Binzak who was doing the scheduling at FOX at the time. I explained the situation and asked him why he wanted to piss off a star on his network. Doug said that there was nothing that he could do about it. I told him that I would need to retaliate because I had a crazed executive on my hands. That summer FOX premiered an original scripted series about firefighters. I put my final run of Backdraft up against it and killed their series. Doug called and asked if we were even.
CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON....The way we generally figured out a license fee for a theatrical was by its box office gross. Back then, a network would generally pay 15% of box office for x number of runs. Sometimes there would be a cap. Several years ago I was out our local art theater and I saw a trailer for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. We (FOX) were in the process of buying a movie from Sony and they gave us a list of features and asked us to buy one more movie. I told our head of business affairs that I had seen a trailer for Crouching Tiger (it had not come out yet) and it might be worth a shot. I felt it was a sleeper. We threw it into the package. The movie came out and wound up grossing over 120 million dollars. We suddenly had a movie with an outrageous license fee. We were screwed and only aired it once.
THE FUGITIVE...At some point the networks started pre-buying movies i.e. making deals for a movie even before we saw the box office. The first movie we pre-bought at NBC was The Fugitive. After we made the deal we started to panic.  We had paid a large license fee in order to take it off the market. We went out on our own dime and bought the rights to air the final three episodes of the television series and ran them on the week before the movie premiered. Fortunately, The Fugitive opened and we gave Warner Brothers all this free publicity. Pre-buying is a game of chicken between the movie studio and the network. We wanted to pre-buy Godzilla from Sony and made a generous offer. Sony turned it down and said that they were happy to wait until the movie opened. The Saturday morning after Godzilla opened we got the box office faxed to us from another studio and we knew it had bombed. Suddenly Sony claimed that they had accepted our offer. We held them up for more runs for the same price. We also demanded additional runs of A Few Good Men and Men in Black 2 (two movies that we had bought in an earlier package).
RICHIE RICH, BEETHOVEN, JURASSIC PARK, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S XMAS VACATION Our Sales Department loved when we aired theatricals over Thanksgiving weekend and I would have fun putting together packages of movies to air Thursday-Sunday. One year I pitched Vince Manze (our promo guy) the idea of doing promos for the Thanksgiving movies where the children of NBC employees take over the network and demand that we air these four movies. Vince liked the idea and we made it into a big party inviting our co-workers to bring their kids to the Burbank lot for the shoot. My daughter and son were in the promo (my daughter actually had a speaking part). One problem: we had just renovated the executive conference room and we pretty much destroyed it during the shoot. It took the whole weekend to get it looking like new again and I thought for sure I was going to get fired.
So now theatricals are becoming extinct on the broadcast networks. It was fun while it lasted and I had an opportunity to fulfill one of my childhood dreams.