Tuesday, January 26, 2016

WHAT TO DO AFTER THE BIG PRIME TIME FOOTBALL GAMES

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.


Friday, January 22, 2016

THE BOOK OF LIFE - PART 15

It's time to enter SHADES OF BLUE and ANGEL FROM HELL into the Book of Life. One's a no-brainer, the other a little less so.

Here are the possible fates of these shows:

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)
LET'S GO TO A BRIS (the order will be snipped)
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 with SHADES OF BLUE. Last year NBC made the bold move of sending THE BLACK LIST over to Thursday following the Super Bowl and surrounded it with total crap. They started off this season with more incomprehensible crap at 10pm (I can't even remember the name of it...The Player?) so here comes JLo to the rescue with a cop show and VOILA!!!!!! When it comes to dramas broadcast television's wheelhouse is still cops, lawyers, doctors and public servants. CBS knows this and NBC seems to have figured it out which is why THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA hangs in there. ROSEWOOD was the only drama on FOX that really worked despite their obsession with SCREAM QUEENS.

As I said, this one's a no brainer and we'll be seeing SHADES OF BLUE at Kol Nidre service unless there are reasons to save it for mid-season. It's also interesting that SHADES OF BLUE will have a JLo centric American Idol leadin through its full this year.

OK ANGEL FROM HELL. The ratings have been fairly steady but not spectacular and I feel that CBS is a bit more focused on the traditional way to evaluate a show. CBS has pretty much abandoned comedies on Monday and the Wednesday comedies are sort of a place holder. They have enough established comedies returning to fill up Thursday...and THE ODD COUPLE  has yet to return.  LIFE IN PIECES appears to be a keeper (I thought it would make it to the Seder but now it looks like it will be around for Kol Nidre in the fall) so CBS has one returning freshman comedy. CBS holds their shows to a higher ratings standard so I doubt that ANGEL FROM HELL is going to make the cut for a second season. Also it's a gimmick comedy and they are just too hard to sustain, so ANGEL FROM HELL will finish its run but I've pre-ordered the deli platter and I'll be paying a shiva call down the road.

Zay Gazunt


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

THE BOOK OF LIFE - PART 14

Well let's see....four comedies are ready to be entered into The Book of Life. Here are the possible entries including the new category of LET'S GO TO A BRIS which means the order will be snipped back from 13. It's sort of cancelling the show but being in denial for a while. Won't apply to many mid-season shows in that they have either completed their order or were circumcised prior to getting on the air.          

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)
LET'S GO TO A BRIS (the order will be snipped)
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)


There's also a good chance that most of the mid-season shows will be around to see their B'Nai Mitzvah because the cupboard is bare and it's either playing them out or going to repeats and, you know, patience is one of the new buzzwords so.....

We've got SUPERSTORE and TELENOVELA on NBC and COOPER BARRETT'S GUIDE TO SURVIVING LIFE and BORDERTOWN on FOX.

Let's start with the good news

SUPERSTORE
When I saw this puppy in May I awarded it with the MASKY for best new mid-season comedy. There were a lot of elements that I felt would make it relatable to a broad audience. It was an environment that we were all familiar with, it had a diverse case, it had some romantic tension and we all wonder about the backstories of people we see working at these big stores........oh and there were some funny moments in it. This wasn't rocket science just a good, solid comedy with an infinite number of stories that it could tell.

NBC previewed it and put it in a leadoff time period and ta-da SUPERSTORE was a self starter. This network is starved for comedies and they may have a keeper here. Now the question is do they understand why it's working and can they develop something with a similar sensibility to pair it up with because regarding SUPERSTORE
SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE 

I really hope that NBC's approach to this good problem isn't to develop "Superstore:Cincinnati". I wouldn't put it past them.

PS over the four or five years that I've been doing the MASKYS I have a pretty solid track record (other than Animal Hospital). Hopefully I can get my hands on the pilots and, if I can, will try to Periscope the event this year.

TELENOVELA
Shows about television generally don't work. Viewers don't really care about how the sausage is made. Yeah 30 ROCK lasted a while but it was never really a ratings success. At least that was somewhat smart. This is just bad and over the top oh and we have JANE THE VIRGIN which has figured everything out better than any show on TV including how to integrate a telenovela into a bigger smart, funny and over the top telenovela (I think the word is meta but who knows).
TELENOVELA has substantially dropped from its SUPERSTORE leadin every week in spite of NBC trying to push the two Latina leads as a reason to watch both (lesson in that). It will get B'nai Mitzvahed but sadly
BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL

And now on to FOX

COOPER BARRETT'S GUIDE TO SURVIVING LIFE
Titles really matter. MOB DOCTOR was one of our strongest testing pilots. The scores on the lead were Jack Bauer levels if I remember correctly. We had a much more soapy title for it (I could be wrong but it was something like INDEBTED) but, for a variety of reasons we settled on Mob Doctor. It was sort of like leading with our chin.
COOPER BARRETT had four strikes against it before it ever saw the air.
The title
It suffers from the FOX doofus syndrome (that's a story for another day)
It's surrounded by animation therefore screamin young and male.
January and February are a bitch for FOX on Sunday nights given all the event competition on the other networks.

FOX's comedies have been getting very narrow in addition to attracting rather small 18-49 audiences relative to other network comedies. I just don't see this as starting off a night. Also, where else would CBGFSL go on the FOX schedule? The producer is my friend but I have to try to be honest with all of you or why read any of this crap, so assume CBGFSL will get B'Nai Mitzvahed (may move somewhere like 7-8 on Sunday or get a shot on Tuesday) but, at the end of the day....
BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL

BORDERTOWN
Animation is a tricky business. It often takes years from the time you see the pilot to getting the show on the air...and then you often have to  make a gut call regarding picking up more episodes before seeing any evidence of acceptance (ratings). My memory is a bit fuzzy but we screened BORDERTOWN a few years ago with some other animation contenders. I believe we went with some animated cop show which did not work. I liked BORDERTOWN because, for me, any successful animated network show centered on a family. I was in the minority.
                      
During my tenure at FOX we tried several animated shows and the ones that generally went beyond the initial 13 episodes were family comedies...American Dad, Cleveland and Bob's Burgers. It helped that Seth MacFarlane had a hand in them. Seth wasn't involved in the original BORDERTOWN pilot so, I figure with Seth now in the mix, even if the ratings are so so we might still see more beyond the initial 13.

I don't believe they have ordered more so if we see BORDERTOWN return it would not be until next January at the earliest. Since I am not aware of any other FOX animated series ordered for next season I will go out on a limb and say that, regarding BORDERTOWN
SET A PLACE AT THE 2017 SEDER TABLE 

I think JLo's show is up next. Stay tuned.














Monday, January 4, 2016

TCA TIME

I attended over 60 Television Critics Association "Press Tours" over the course of my 35 year career in the biz. In my late lamented blog I shared a few of my favorite moments. I don't miss Press Tour but do miss several of the TV writers who attended. Maybe some of them will call while they are out here and buy me a drink (hint hint)

Oh yeah, there would always be an executive session with the Presidents, Chairmens or whatever fakakta title was in vogue at the moment. They were my bosses. I would always tell them that there are only three answers to any question that a writer will ask. The goal is to come up with a creative variation on the answers. Here are the three answers:

1)Yeah

2)...and your point is?

3)Go fuck yourself

That's it. So to my pals in the press remember that when you ask a question to the big boys and girls at the executive sessions every answer is one of the three. Have fun figuring out which one they give to your question.

Anyway enjoy this blast from the past.

By next weekend we will be knee deep in TCA, one of the most nonsensical and increasingly irrelevant rituals of the television industry. Trust me, I'm saying this from experience having attended over forty of these puppies at two different networks. For those of you who don't know what TCA is it's the Television Critics Association press tour, which occurs twice a year (January and July or August). It's held in or near Los Angeles (it will be in Pasadena next week) and it's an opportunity for the television writers to attend panels on new or popular shows as well as hearing from the top executives at each of the broadcast and cable networks. The goal of the networks is to get out of town with no controversy, and for the writers it's a chance to drink and eat at the network's expense (and walk away with a lot of tchochkies) and to compete for the most idiotic question of each session....the competition is intense. The executive panel at TCA features the President/Chairman of each network and I am convinced there are only three answers to any question during that session and it's all about choosing the appropriate one and then responding in a creative way. I won't say what the three answers are but if you have ever attended a session I'm sure you can figure them out. Anyway with TCA upon us I thought I would share some of my favorite press tour moments over the past 20+ years.
                                                                                                                                  WARREN LITTLEFIELD INTRODUCING JAY LENO AS THE NEW HOST OF THE TONIGHT SHOW Definitely the most insane executive session I ever attended. We were prepping for the session in a small room (I think we were in Century City for this one) and we had no idea how packed the Ballroom was going to be. Warren handled the session with his usual calm and Jay rode in on his cycle. This whole thing inspired a book and an HBO movie                                                                                                                                           BRANDON TARTIKOFF RAPPING WITH WILL SMITH In May of 1989 we screened THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR which, at the time, seemed like a daring idea...put a rapper in a traditional family sit com. At the summer TCA Will Smith was supposed to come out and introduce Brandon and the two of them were going to rap. They rehearsed during the prep session and it became obvious that Brandon just couldn't do it. It was the most entertaining prep session I ever attended.  
                                                                                                                          JEFF ZUCKER OUTING FOX REALITY PROJECTS In one of the most bush moves in TCA history Zucker, having accused FOX (wrongly by the way) of ripping off a Mark Burnett boxing show-The Contender-exposed several FOX reality projects that were in the works. Given the need for secrecy in many projects, exposing the ideas made it more difficult to cast and execute. Even though FOX could have retaliated and outed several NBC reality shows, we decided to take the high road and…                                                PUT MIKE DARNELL IN FRONT OF THE TCA IN A BOXING ROBE SURROUNDED BY FREAKS FROM SEVERAL OF HIS SHOWS It was one of the more entertaining sessions and Mike put Zucker in his place.

AT THE NBC TCA PARTY, STEVE McPHERSON JUMPIED INTO THE PASADENA RITZ CARLTON POOL FULLY CLOTHED ON A DARE FROM WARREN LITTLEFIELD.

JOHN WELLS TALKING ABOUT ER I will never forget Wells summer session at TCA where he talked about his vision for a medical drama that NBC was putting in the HILL STREET BLUES, LA LAW time period. Wow did that guy understand television. We walked out of there confident that, not only did we have a great pilot, but the right person at the helm.                                                                                                                                                                     THE FIRST AMERICAN IDOL SESSION AT TCA Summer 2002, we were down to the final 10 and they performed at TCA. We knew we had something but (sort of like ER) had no idea that we were witnessing the beginning of the biggest show of the decade....ah the innocence.   
                                                                                                                          THE MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT I CAN RECALL AT A TCA SESSION was when a reporter who will remain nameless asked Jim Burrows (at the Will and Grace session) to describe the difference between directing television and movies. The reporter went on and on to show his familiarity with Jim's movie career. When he was done Jim calmly said "I'm Jim Burrows, you've mistaken me for Jim Brooks".......crickets.
                                                                                                                          THE ONE TCA QUESTION I EVER PLANTED was at Peter Liguori's first executive session as President of FOX. At the NBC session a few days earlier Kevin Reily described his first year as President of NBC as like “getting a high colonic”. I asked a good friend of mine (actually offered the person a dinner on the dare) to ask Liguori"what medical procedure best describes your first few months in the FOX job".....lots of laughs.....Liguori didn't get it. 
                
Hopefully something will happen to make this year's TCA memorable but I won't hold my breath.