The Report: Five Fall TV Lessons

58 REP The Big Bang Theory
Cliff Lipson/CBS

What zombies, ‘Lone Star’ and Bristol Palin taught us.

Serialized dramas ain’t dead
AMC’s The Walking Dead might not be the fall’s highest-rated new show, but with a staggering 4 million viewers in the adults 18-49 demo — the highest basic cable series ratings to date — it must be considered the season’s breakout success. At a time when networks are focusing on all things procedural, AMC made a daring bet in an untested genre and proved that TV execs shouldn’t be scared of serialized shows. NBC, which hasn’t been able to turn its admirable The Event into, well, an event, reportedly rejected Dead, which would have been one of its top-rated dramas even if it pulled the same number it does on cable.

If you knock off a reality show, make sure it’s a successful one
Fox’s Skating With Celebrities flopped in 2006, but this fall ABC unleashed Skating With the Stars anyway. You know the logic: We’ll make it better than they did. That  same thought process led NBC to attempt I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! in 2009 after it already tanked on ABC. Unlike scripted shows, reality projects are hugely dependent on the concept, not just the execution. Listen to viewers when they reject an idea — unless you can convince Simon Cowell to critique lutz jumps and swizzles.

If you move your big hits, make sure they are still hits
The Big Bang Theory opening CBS’ Thursdays? Survivor on Wednesdays? No sweat. Both time-period titans ruled their new slots. But shifting aging procedurals such as CSI: NY, CSI: Miami and Medium to less protected nights felt like relocating hospice patients in winter. The CBS moves were about strengthening the schedule overall — which it did — but those shows have dropped about 25 percent each.

Cable-style dramas belong on cable
It’s not too late to kick poor Lone Star once more. 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 well-publicized premiere.

Casting is king
Bristol Palin and a crazy-eclectic cast helped boost Dancing With the Stars to its second-biggest fall edition, showing once again that even aging reality formats can spike with the right 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 insists that the spring edition is better.