Over the weekend several of you asked me to give my thoughts on FOX putting THE X FILES on after the NFC Championship game. Once the game ended there was a bit of an uproar over the extended post-game which went on for almost a half hour. I was asked by several of you why FOX didn't go as quickly as possible to the show.
Although FOX isn't officially reporting THE X FILES ratings until Friday when they have three additional days of viewing (silly since everyone but FOX is reporting the numbers) unofficially the show did really well and, having it on the next night, helped deliver a solid number for the second episode. In addition, The X FILES helped drive an audience into the new 9PM show LUCIFER...leadins still matter and large audience will still watch certain shows live or very close to live. All of this is sacrilege in our new Peak TV world.....but I digress.
A few years ago I wrote a piece on programming after the Super Bowl which should answer some of your questions. Regarding why networks don't go right from the game to the programming the answer is simple. Sports has advertising commitments that they have to honor. You don't get many opportunities to sell the numbers that you get even for a post game following a blow out.
Some networks are better about getting from post game to the entertainment programming. FOX is not that network. When I was there I showed my bosses that we had the longest gap between post gun and entertainment. I think they were sick of my complaining about it but I was just trying to protect the entertainment. I was also an asshole about pestering our head of Network Distribution into getting the affiliates to give us an hour after the NFC Championship game. Since FOX didn't have ten o'clock programming we would go from the postgame back to the local stations. So this Sunday that pestering paid off. You're welcome FOX. Someone has to be the a-hole.
Anyway, here is a piece from my late lamented blog which was inspired by CBS' announcement that they were launching UNDERCOVER BOSS behind the Super Bowl. Enjoy
So CBS just announced that Undercover Boss would air after the Super Bowl. Interesting if not perplexing choice. Historically the Super Bowl has not been an effective launch pad for new series. Everyone likes to point to the A Team but, in fact, The A Team premiered on Sunday the week before the Super Bowl and NBC ran an additional episode after the game before the show moved into it's regular Tuesday time slot. The two-hour pilot really popped so even without the Super Bowl support NBC knew they had a hit on their hands. Wonder Years also premiered after the Super Bowl but it was moving into a protected hammock on one of ABC's strong comedy blocs so that was a great show in a great time period and the Super bowl exposure really was not the determining factor in its success. Other than those two series most attempts to "launch" shows behind the Super Bowl have met with very little success.
In January of 1995 ABC premiered Extreme, a rescue drama, after the game and the show immediately bombed in its regular time period. NBC had the next Super Bowl and we decided to take a different approach that became the standard for most years moving forward. The strategy was simple: Take one of you hot shows and put it behind the game. Announce the scheduling move in the upfront so that you can sell it often at a high CPM. We first approached Seinfeld about the Super Bowl slot and after Jerry turned us down, Friends was offered the spot and they delivered an awesome one hour which featured guest spots by Julia Roberts, John Claude Van Dam and Marcel the monkey. NBC announced the post-Super Bowl episode of Friends in the upfront and the cash flowed in. That became the pattern although networks met with various degrees of success. Probably the smartest use of this strategy was ABC's 2006 Grey's Anatomy cliffhanger episode. That was one of the few times that this post-SB airing pushed a show to the next level. On the other hand ABC also has the most boneheaded use of the slot with the 2003 airing of Alias. ABC gave the small but loyal audience a chance to jump off the train by ending the storyline that had run through the series up to that point.
FOX did launch American Dad and Family Guy behind the Super Bowl but both animated series were paired with episodes of The Simpsons and the Simpsons episodes were specifically designed as post Super Bowl episodes. All this was announced in the upfront.
What's interesting about the CBS move is that they had an opportunity to announce this in the upfront and didn't. They showed a trailer for Undercover Boss, which met with positive feedback from the advertisers. Also CBS has a lot of advertiser friendly shows (especially the comedies on Monday), which could have generated a lot of advertiser demand if announced as post-Super Bowl shows. Given that these shows are on Monday night some sort of cliffhanger episodes after the Super bowl might have had a payoff the following night. Finally, Undercover Boss is an untested unscripted show and there is often some advertiser resistance to reality shows. Following the Super Bowl, I have to believe the CPM will not be as high as for a scripted show. Sure one can argue that CBS will give Undercover Boss the exposure and it will then be paired with Amazing Race but if I've learned anything in this business it's that shows will do what they will do regardless of network efforts to "launch" them. It's the show and the time period that at the end of the day determines success. None of this is to question CBS but just to air out the issues in this move.