New TV fare a poor runner-up to last year

The new program offerings by the four major u.s. networks were, to say the least, ho-hum.Perhaps our expectations were too high. Having just come out of what we believe to be one of the best program seasons ever in 1992-93, we...

The new program offerings by the four major u.s. networks were, to say the least, ho-hum.

Perhaps our expectations were too high. Having just come out of what we believe to be one of the best program seasons ever in 1992-93, we were waiting breathlessly for the new tv fare, which never really materialized.

But, perhaps as good marketers, knowing that they will soon face a plethora of competition so vast to be mind-boggling, they are doing what all good marketers tend to do:

- Branding the product

- Having the product stand for something, ergo, being consistent.

Consistent

The schedule of new program offerings was certainly that – consistent:

- Fox is trying almost too hard to maintain its youth branding, while subversively trying to age its demographics

- cbs is trying to maintain its lead in the 18-54 age category, while attempting greater relevancy against youth

- nbc and abc are trying to catch up to cbs and Fox and take away greater shares on more viewing nights.

The new season builds on the previous year’s offerings appealing to both aging baby boomers and Generation X viewers, thereby establishing multi-hits among differing audiences.

Comedy Remains King

For the last several years we have said that comedy is king and in ’93-94 the sitcom will not be dethroned in spite of the fact everyone is trying almost too hard to be witty, irreverent, and socially responsible by including minority groups.

The Nanny

We can only assume that outside of New York and L.A. the ‘Jewish Princess’ is a minority group, and that is why cbs thought the program The Nanny deserved a place on its fall schedule.

The Nanny tried hard to build characters and give them humorous lines, in humorous situations – not!! It will fail.

However, The Nanny aside, the majority of new and returning sitcoms will continue to win audiences to conventional tv.

Drama

This venue can be broken into two sub-groups:

- Expensive – drama defined by adventure (In the Heat of the Night) and serial (L.A. Law.)

- Inexpensive – defined by most of the reality-based dramas – the better ones being Rescue 911 and Canada’s Missing Treasures.

This year, we will finally add the western in the form of two new western dramas on cbs: Harts of the West, and Walker, Texas Ranger will join one of our personal favorites, Fox’s comedy, The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.

The big new ‘drama’ entry this year is nbc’s new sci-fi entry from Steven Spielberg, SeaQuest DSV, starring Roy Scheider.

This is an expensive production, and we can only guess the producers were able to sell this to the nbc ‘Bean Counters’ by offering up such lucrative evidence as the Star Trek series, old and new, which do extremely well in first- and second-run syndication.

The influence of the Bill/ Hillary government

Drama is the one area in which violence can become an issue. The new fare, with the exception of SeaQuest, is mild at best and will join its returning milquetoast brothers such as Beverly Hills 90210, L.A. Law, and so on.

Violent programming does bring large audiences (sadly) but the networks are being responsible if not cautious in their ’93-94 offerings.

Violence can be easily masked with a ‘reality-based face.’

Reality

This program genre has moved from the currently silly ‘cop chasing bad guy’ to ‘made-for-tv venues’ with such intriguing viewing as ‘disease-/disaster-of-the-week fare,’ offering such violent themes as wife abuse, incest and brutal crimes – all under the heading of specials based on true life stories.

But weekly family traumas or gruesome events aside, specials, miniseries and block buster entertainment events and movies are here to stay. In fact, they are likely to grow as they offer the networks and advertisers a number of benefits including:

i) a covert pilot. If a miniseries or made-for-tv movie does well, it can be easily placed into second season where it will have greater time to build an audience.

ii) financial returns in a universe of increasing competition. They can be efficient filler and certainly make economic sense for second- and third-run windows.

Good venue

iii) handled right, they offer an excellent advertiser-supported venue that provides good entertainment with strong product association.

iv) they provide solid network branding

Strategy asked us to select our top 10 Toronto programs, along with our top 5 new program winners and losers.

If we look at the top 10 for Toronto, these may be considerably different than the top 10 predicted for the u.s. market.

This is equally the result of time-period placement as it is viewing preferences. For example, Love & War, rewritten with Annie Potts as the female lead is predicted to be a top 10 u.s. hit. Its inability to be simulcast will limit its potential in Canada.

With the exception of SeaQuest DSV, no new programs will make it into the Toronto top 10. SeaQuest has both content and timing on its side, but even at that, it is tied for 10th place.

Top 10 Based on Adults 18-49

Seinfeld

Beverly Hills 90210

The Simpsons

Home Improvement

Full House

Roseanne

Murphy Brown

L.A. Law

Melrose Place

Wings

60 Minutes/SeaQuest DSV

New Program Picks and Pans:

The ones we liked best may not necessarily make it into the top 10 by Christmas due to time-period, and sometimes because they need time to grow (Cheers was not a top 10 in the first season).

New shows

Our top 5 New Show Entries are:

The John Larroquette Show – his award-winning comedy style, and the cast of characters means that while he may struggle at first opposite Roseanne, nbc will likely move this program to a more favorable time-period ensuring him of year-end hit status.

SeaQuest DSV- a hit due to excellent casting, writing and time-period.

Phenom – the Carling Bassett story in drag will make it, due to its excellent time-period sandwiched between Full House and Roseanne.

It Had To Be You – while Friday night is not known for its hits, most of the new offerings on this night were excellent, including this one, starring Faye Dunaway.

Out on a limb

We are going to go out on a limb with Friday night, which could be the big hit sleeper night of the season by naming as our fifth winner – Friday Night Mystery Movie, representing the only real alternative from 8-10 p.m.

Two programs with excellent time-period potential, Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammer of Cheers fame sandwiched between Seinfeld and L.A. Law, and Dave’s World, starring Judge Harry on Night Court, sandwiched between Evening Shade and Murphy Brown are not forecast to make it into the top five in spite of their stars and favorable positioning.

The pilots were weak and it appears doubtful that these two individuals can carry the poor plots given the characters we saw in the pilot. They will be survivors but without a lot of rewritting they will not be hits.

Every season has misses, and our call for ’93/94 are: Daddy Dearest, Family Album, Nanny, Cafe Americain and Joe’s Life.

Sunni Boot is senior vice-president, managing director at Toronto-based Optimedia.