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DEC
15
4 YEARS

Five Lessons of the Fall TV Season

Related: Tim Goodman on The Five Cable Series That Nudged Brilliance in 2010

Captain Hindsight here, with five lessons from the fall season; a quintet of learning experiences so profound they will forever alter the decision-making process of broadcast executives. Well, perhaps not. But who can resist some December-morning quarterbacking?

Serialized dramas ain't Dead: AMC's The Walking Dead may not be the highest-rated new show of the fall, but it's the most successful. AMC made a daring bet in an untested TV genre and landed the highest-rated basic cable drama of all time. The Dead proves once again networks shouldn't be scared of serialized programs. NBC reportedly rejected the show, which would have been one of the Peacock's top-rated dramas even if it pulled the same number it does on AMC (would the show have been as brutally well executed if processed through a broadcaster's development machine? Probably not). NBC does earn props for at least trying a serialized drama -- the familiar-feeling The Event -- when others played it safe.  

If you're going to knock off a reality show idea, knock off a successful one: Fox's Skating with Celebrities flopped in 2006, yet ABC unleashed Skating With the Stars on viewers anyway. You know the logic: We'll make it better than they did. That's the same thought process that led NBC to attempt I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here last year after the concept flopped on ABC. Unlike scripted shows, reality projects are hugely dependent on the appeal of the concept, not just the execution. Listen to viewers when they reject a reality idea -- unless you can convince Simon Cowell to critique lutz jumps and swizzles.

It doesn't matter where you put your biggest hits (but make sure they're hits): Big Bang Theory opening Thursdays? Survivor on Wednesdays? No sweat. Both time-period titans of appointment TV ruled their new slots. But moving aging procedurals like CSI: NY, CSI: Miami and Medium to less protected nights was more like relocating hospice patients in winter. For CBS, the moves weren't so much about boosting each show's rating, but strengthening the schedule overall -- which it did -- yet it's never fun to watch a show lose viewers.

Casting is king: Bristol Palin and a crazy-eclectic cast helped boost Dancing with the Stars to its second biggest fall edition ever, showing once again that even aging reality formats can spike with the right group of contestants. Meanwhile, NBC’s The Apprentice sank to a record low without celebrities and CBS' Survivor, was flat, with no help from the dullest group of castaways in recent memory (CBS sources insist the spring edition is much better).

Cable-style dramas belong on cable: Nope, it's not too late to kick poor Lone Star one more time. The critically well-received Fox drama was a bold and perhaps necessary experiment: Can those meditative FX and AMC anti-hero dramas work on the Big Four? In the case of Lone Star, the answer was a resounding no, with audiences refusing to even check out the show's premiere.