Programming & Program Development

by Rebecca McGovern

The vast landscape of television has been drastically altered this fall. Not only have the networks flooded this year’s lineup with an uncharacteristically large number of new shows, several of which emerged with uncharacteristically large numbers. Nets have also beefed up the number of projects in development, greenlighting several projects that have big names behind them.


Once the anchor of primetime programming, dramas still make up the core, but are slowly being surpassed by reality shows and situation comedies as top draws for viewers — particularly in the age 18-49 demographic (1). Six of the shows cancelled so far on broadcast this season have been new dramas — CBS’s “Made in Jersey”, ABC’s ‘Private Practice” (a returning series cancelled amid its 6th season), ABC’s “666 Park Avenue”, ABC’s “Last Resort”, the CW’s “Emily Owens, M.D.”, and Fox’s “The Mob Doctor” (2).

NBC’s Revolution set a ratings record with 11.7 million viewers a 4.1 key demographic rating (14).

Some new shows, however, have given a strong showing. NBC’s new drama “Revolution”, created by J.J. Abrams (“Lost”), which proved to be an unexpected ratings winner, and the only new drama in the top 20 in the age 18-49 demographic. CBS’s “Elementary” is also proved to be a ratings success, consistently gaining numbers in the age 18-49 demographic, as well as coming first in total viewers most airings (3).

One of the biggest challenges to the success of primetime broadcast network drama programming is the rise of cable networks, and the quality of their own programming. Because they don’t have to “neuter” their dramas to appeal to a wide audience, cable networks can take more risks when developing their dramas, and thus have the ability to garner critical acclaim. FX’s “American Horror Story”, which premiered last fall and aired a completely re-vamped and re-cast season two this fall, is a testament to the relatively newfound strength of cable programming. Shows like “American Horror Story” make it difficult for broadcast networks to reel in that segments of audiences who prefer the highbrow dramatic programming of cable networks, and challenge and impede the success of broadcast shows like the now-cancelled “Mob Doctor”, which can offer an intriguing presence, but which shy back in terms of execution and contact in order to keep the program high concept (4).

So far, projects in development for the new batch of dramas to hit the air in coming seasons include several legal and investigative dramas from CBS, including a small screen version of “Beverly Hills Cop” and an untitled “NCIS: Los Angeles” spinoff. NBC aims high with a supernatural drama from acclaimed director Alfonso Cuaron about a girl with magical powers (5).

Both ABC and the CW apparently look to capitalize on the recent huge success of the superhero genre at the box office (and more recently with the unexpected success of CW drama “Arrow”). ABC is working with Joss Whedon (director of this summer’s mega-hit The Avengers) on “S.H.I.E.L.D.”, a small screen spinoff of Avengers, focusing on the title organization spanning multiple Marvel comics. CW is in the early stages of developing “Amazon”, a drama based on the D.C. Comic superhero Wonder Woman. Although the CW project has not been greenlit, the network is already looking for actresses to play the lead (6).


This fall, comedies are at the top of the ratings charts when it comes to scripted content. CBS’s comedies give a particularly strong showing, with “2 Broke Girls”, “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” all ranking in the top 20 in key demo ratings (“Big Bang” takes the 3rd spot in the key demo rankings). ABC’s “Modern Family” has remains the net’s top comedy, and the number two show overall in the key demo ratings (1). All were also top comedies in both key demographic ratings and total viewers. NBC’s comedies “Community” and “Parks and Recreation” remain cult and critic favorites, despite low ratings. And the much-awarded “30 Rock” from NBC concludes after seven seasons and three Emmys for Outstanding Comedy (7).

Fourteen new fall and mid-season comedies replacements were introduced from the broadcast networks during the Upfront presentations in May: four from ABC, one from CBS, three from Fox, and a whopping seven from NBC (8). Despite this flooding of the market, none of the new programming has come close to achieving the ratings success of last fall’s comedy newcomer and freshman darling “New Girl”, with no new comedies breaking the top 25 in key demographic ratings (1).

Rebel Wilson starred in “Bridesmaids” and more recently in “Pitch Perfect”. She is currently developing a comedy with ABC. (Photo via

In comedy development, ABC has several comedies with female leads and female-centric storylines in the works, including “Super Fun Night” from Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids) about three nerdy girls looking to have fun on Friday night. CBS is has also ordered a pilot featuring a nerd-centric plot: “Nerds in Love”. Fox has ordered a pilot an untitled cop comedy starring former SNL-star Andy Samburg as a yet-unnamed character. NBC most recently ordered to pilot “The Gates”, a remake of a U.K. series of the same name, highlighting the antics of parents picking their children up from school (5).


In recent years, some cable networks have established a niche within reality programming that focuses on the lives of certain demographic groups. Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchises were examples of this, and TLC’s new reality show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”, focusing on the antics of a young beauty pageant participant (who was first featured in TLC’s “Toddlers in Tiaras”) and her redneck family capitalizes on this particular genre of reality TV. The success of “Honey Boo Boo” is emphasized by the fact that TLC renewed the reality show (9).

NBC’s reality competition show “The Voice” continues to be a ratings topper, coming in at number five spot in key demo ratings, and consistently winning the night in total viewers. ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”, once a huge ratings winner for the network, continues to fall from its ratings pedestal, barely breaking the top 50 in key demo ratings (1) and causing ABC to think about airing the show only once a year, as opposed to the fall and spring airings of previous years (10).

In any given season, there are always innumerable reality series ordered to pilots — largely because of the relatively cheap production costs — all featuring one peculiar premise after the next (11).


This fall season in particular saw a huge influx in celebrity-hosted talk shows. Leading the charge (and leading in the ratings) is ABC’s “Katie” featuring Katie Couric. “Katie” and “Steve Harvey” (starring the former “Family Feud” host) also debuted well. Talk shows starring “Survivor” host Jeff Probst (CBS’s “The Jeff Probst Show” and Ricki Lake (CBS’s “The Ricki Lake Show” debuted significantly lower in ratings (12).

Katie Couric’s new talk show debuted this fall. (Photo via

“Bethenny”, a talk show helmed by “Real Housewives of New York” star Bethenny Frankel was picked up by Fox for national syndication after being declared “dead” in 2011. “Bethenny” will begin its run in 2013 (13). CBS has greenlit a talk show executive produced by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah, starring Latifah. “The Queen Latifah Show,” will air next fall.


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