Programming has traditionally been made up of two dominant genres, the drama and the situational comedy (or sitcom). In a typical week’s prime time schedule, the major five broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, and NBC) air a combined 43 hours of dramas and 18 hours of comedy. Another notable genre in the current schedule is reality and competition shows which currently make up 14 hours of the broadcast schedule. When looking into the broader scope of television, more and more genres begin to emerge. Currently on cable and premium networks, dramas and sitcoms also dominate the schedule but they are accompanied by more diverse programming such as mini-series, more reality, and developing genres such as mock reality. Schedules are constantly changing and adapting as new programs are developed and programs begin to come off the air. The development process is unique for each genre and the current season has already showed some success and failures.
The beginning of any drama series typically happens in one of three ways. Either a writer-producer meets with the network and a concept emerges which then turns into a script or a writer-producer already has a script and pitches it to the network. The third common way for a show to develop is for a highly regarded star to decide they want to do a television program and a team is assigned to develop something which fits their needs. Once a script is written and the network approves along with a cast and crew, a pilot is produced and shown to the network. How many pilots are commissioned is dependent upon the networks overall tone, for example The CW is unlikely to produce a large amount of comedy pilots since their schedule is dominated by dramas, along with their current needs. If not many dramas survive the season, more are likely to be commissioned for the next season.
In the current pilot season, Vulture magazine has already spotted several programming trends. One of which is franchise programming. Shows such as NCIS, The Vampire Diaries, and Chicago Fire all have related pilots being worked on. Going off of the success of Once Upon a Time, there is also a tendency towards magical or supernatural themed programs. Vulture predicts a rise in “House” type characters as well as many bigger name stars following Kevin Bacon back to the smaller screen. Much of this is based off of the successes of this past season and an effort to keep promising trends rolling.
One of the more successful launches this Spring was Fox’s The Following starring Kevin Bacon. The show has already been picked up for a second season and has been consistently winning it’s time slot.
A significant drama which went off the air this spring was The CW’s Gossip Girl. While not a major player in the ratings, Gossip Girl was still influential in it’s run on the CW as a trend setter for other programming. The network saw an uptick in the amount of programs focusing on the glamorous and elite such as 90210 and this season’s The Carrie Diaries.
Cable networks typically are more adventurous in their programming and have been seeing a lot of success lately.
Among the biggest successes is AMC’s The Walking Dead. It is a slightly nontraditional show that has garnered huge ratings for the cable network. It was a major Sunday night competitor this season despite not being on a major broadcast network.
Another major program this spring was The History Channel’s mini series The Bible. It received a lot of attention for it’s content and created a viewing war with The Walking Dead.
Comedies are developed in a very similar way to dramas. Typically more comedy pilots are produced each year because they are shorter and quicker to make. However, more concepts are abandoned and there are different standards for determining what shows get picked up. A comedy will rarely be picked up just because it’s funny. Comedies are evaluated more based on the current schedule and where there are holes. If a current show is going off the air or needs a stronger lead in, then a comedy has a stronger chance of making it to air. There is also a different target demographic for comedies. They are intended to appeal to younger, typically less educated, and lower income than other types of programming.
NBC had a much hyped new series in 1600 Penn which was given an early release of the pilot. The show did not hold an audience well and saw continually declining ratings. NBC chose to end the season early by airing multiple episodes in a night. The scheduling change combined with declining ratings led to cancellation rumors.
A more successful show this spring has been ABC’s How to Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life. It had a late premiere date but has still seen favorable ratings. It focuses on a single mom having to move back in with her parents and the struggles that ensue from her eccentric family.
This season will see the end of the long running NBC comedy The Office. The show was a hit for the network for many years and led to similar programs such as Parks and Recreation which is still on air. Show Runner Greg Daniels promises a heartfelt goodbye to match the series all around tone and characters.
There are four general rules that define reality television. The first is that they do not involve actors, at least in the traditional sense. Second, while they may be planned, they are not written in the way that comedies and dramas are. They are always produced on location, and finally they have some sort of special gimmick. When in development, these programs are judged more on the potential of the idea than the reputations of the writers or performers. Reality television has created a place for itself in the schedule over the past few decades. It is especially prominent on cable networks with networks such as E! and Bravo airing almost exclusively reality in their prime time slots. Bravo recently announced they have 17 new series being planned, nearly all of which are reality.
On broadcast networks, it is most common to see reality programming in the form of competition. The Voice saw a cast change this spring with Shakira and Usher replacing Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green as judges. The show has been seeing decent numbers with the new judges.
Reality is clearly a genre which is here to stay. Over the years, reality programming has reached to some pretty extreme levels as far as the types of stories and characters that are put on the air. This has led to a new trend of mock realities, shows which are meant to look like reality shows but are scripted or improv and actually make fun of reality programming.
E! has an hour every week titled “Mock Block Monday” which features two of these Mock Reality Shows. The first is Burning Love which is an imitation of dating shows such as The Bachelor. The second is After Lately which is a supposed documentary of the office of Chelsea Lately, another popular program of theirs.
Other networks are picking up on this trend as well. MTV recently announced a new show, appropriately called Reality Stars, which will be about four friends who get involved in reality television. BET has committed to a second season of The Real Husbands of Hollywood. The show follows men of Hollywood in their “natural environment”.
Nielsen announced earlier this winter that it plans to begin using Twitter to measure program popularity. This focus on the “second screen” could give more insight into what viewers are responding too and begin to dictate programming decisions. It can help programmers adapt to the growing social engagement of viewers and use social media trends to their advantage.
19. The Business of Television, Bleumenthol & Goodenough