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After their premieres, however, all three shows will wait until after the new year before their next new episode airs. It’s part of a strategy at both networks to use event programming to help launch the new shows on-air while also giving viewers a few weeks to find the first episodes on other platforms ahead of them settling into their full-time homes in early January.
In an era where it’s “harder and harder for something to break out” on traditional TV, as NBCUniversal’s president of program planning strategy, entertainment program scheduling and research Jeff Bader puts it, the one-off premiere strategy aims to take advantage of both old and new strategies in launching new shows: Scheduling them on likely high-traffic nights for their initial airings, then letting them live on digital platforms in order to build up viewers in the weeks after their debuts.
Abbott Elementary, a mockumentary about Philadelphia teachers created by and starring Quinta Brunson, will debut Tuesday following ABC’s third Live in Front of a Studio Audience special. NBC will use the final performance episode of The Voice to launch American Auto on Dec. 13, and Grand Crew will lead into the singing competition’s finale on Dec. 14. (NBC did something similar with unscripted show That’s My Jam, debuting it on Nov. 29 ahead of its regular run beginning in January.)
Scheduling Abbott Elementary behind Live in Front of a Studio Audience was a “natural” fit, Jane Gould, executive vp content insight and scheduling strategy at Disney General Entertainment, told The Hollywood Reporter. “And by making the premiere available on Hulu the following day, we’re creating an even larger sampling opportunity and providing the longest runway possible for viewers to discover this comedy gem. We strongly believe in Quinta and the show, and feel this strategy gives it the best possible chance to get it in front of the broadest audience.”
Networks have been using big events to help launch series for decades, of course, and the one-off premiere strategy isn’t entirely new either. NBC has used it a few times in the past, including for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist in early 2020 and back in 2015 for Superstore. (American Auto, incidentally, comes from Superstore creator Justin Spitzer.) Fox arguably pioneered the idea with Glee, airing the series pilot in May 2009, more than three months before its fall debut.
“We’ve learned it definitely works for sampling,” said Bader. “When you have the right shows and believe in those shows and you know when people see them, they’ll talk about them, it really can work well. With Superstore, it really did help.”
Of course, the key with sampling for a show is to get viewers to return for the next episodes, which in this case will be weeks away rather than days. Three to four weeks is a fair amount of time in between airings — all three shows will slot into their regular homes on Jan. 4 — but both Bader and Gould said the promotional opportunities that their December programming offered were too strong not to use.
“In this instance, it’s more about the time of year and less about the amount of weeks between episodes,” said Gould. “The period between our Dec. 7 premiere [for Abbott Elementary] and Jan. 4 return is a prime holiday co-viewing window.”
Both executives, incidentally, said it doesn’t matter to them which platform viewers choose to watch a show. “We just want them to watch,” said Bader, “especially when we’re trying to launch a new show.”
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