Summer TV Lesson No. 1: Big Stars Don't Guarantee Big Hits
And two other big takeaways from the scripted landscape
This story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
TV's push into year-round programming has created new standards for summer success. A few lessons from a jam-packed season:
1. Genre is king
Nearly every big scripted launch this summer fell under the "genre" banner. FX's The Strain, Starz's Outlander and Fox's 24 revival all registered -- the latter, which premiered in-season, ranks as broadcast's summer champ with a 2.8 average rating among adults 18-to-49. Still, the network most invested might be TNT. "We're in the beginning stage of a very significant pivot away from a programming approach that worked really well for a long time," says exiting programming president Michael Wright, who saw Michael Bay's postapocalyptic The Last Ship become cable's biggest launch of 2014 (14.4 million viewers across all platforms) and his network rank above USA all summer. Wright's plans included beefing up sci-fi, action, fantasy and even horror to complement procedurals: "We want to go after that viewer that loves great summer movies."
2. Leverage those sports
Univision's hot streak did not end with its record-breaking FIFA World Cup coverage in June and July. Just as TNT used the NBA Finals to plug Last Ship, the Spanish-language broadcaster promoted scripted fare more than a month in advance -- and topped the Big Four's live viewership during the first three weeks of August among adults 18-to-49. "It was a unique opportunity to tweak our strategy," says Univision CMO Jessica Rodriguez, who lured English-dominant Latino viewers to watch Spanish telenovelas with English promos. "It's about potentially finding that nontraditional Univision viewer that's watching other things." The plan worked. Breakout Mi Corazon Es Tuyo (My Heart Is Yours) has been averaging more bilingual viewers and pulling a 1.5 demo rating.
3. Stars aren't sure things
CBS' pricey Halle Berry vehicle Extant, from Steven Spielberg, has been steady but has not lived up to lofty expectations set by 2013 surprise Under the Dome. Meanwhile, NBC had success with cheap co-productions like Taxi Brooklyn. "If Extant premiered to these numbers last year and Under the Dome came up, I don't think there would have been an Under the Dome," says Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. Extant's future is unclear, but CBS has not shied from ambitious swings: It ordered the James Patterson adaption Zoo for summer 2015, with a streaming deal in place at Netflix. "We've crossed the Rubicon --there's no going back," says CBS senior executive vp primetime Kelly Kahl. "We're all going to continue aggressively programming summer because we can't cede it to cable -- and we can't cede it to each other, frankly."