One of the many ways media companies can demonstrate that most virtuous of corporate virtues--synergy--is when a TV network buys a series from the studio with which they share a corporate parent. All four of the broadcast networks have sister studios that provide varying amounts of their total programming volume, which helps keep the profits from a hit show to be confined to one conglomerate.
That's why the percentage of shows sold internally is a statistic of note to analysts like Nomura Securities, which tallied that 56% of this season’s new programs and 66% returning series will air on the sibling broadcast networks. That figure is slightly down from the past few years, but still well above the 50% low hit back in 2006.
But maybe this isn't the best statistic to gauge just how useful a studio is being to a network. In other words, maybe it's less about the quantity of programming being sold and more about the quality of the time slots in which these series are placed. Which makes the 2012-13 season a sorry state of affairs.
There may be no more important determinant of a show’s success than its lead-in. Doesn’t matter how good a series is, if it doesn’t have good lead-in support, its chances at survival are challenged.
So if a conglom really wanted to put all its weight behind a series in which it could partake of 100% of profits, there's no better move to make then giving said series the best time slots, right?
Take a look at the four coziest time slots available this coming season, based on the total audience generated by their lead-ins. (The list doesn't include higher rated series like "American Idol" that don't serve as a lead-in to anything):
- Monday, 10 p.m., after NBC’s “The Voice”
- Thursday, 8:30 p.m., after CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory”
- Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., after ABC’s “Modern Family”
- Monday, 8:30 p.m., after CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother”
WBTV's new comedy “Partners” will get the “Mother” lead-in, which so effectively launched “2 Broke Girls” last season. Its new drama “Revolution” (pictured above) is getting NBC’s best slot immediately after its reigning unscripted juggernaut.
Even WBTV’s returning shows are being shifted into new time slots following the top two-rated comedies on TV. Sophomore comedy “Suburgatory” should get a nice lift with “Modern” behind it, which should help the studio get maximum value for this half-hour in the syndication marketplace where it is currently being shopped. And veteran comedy “Two and a Half Men” made an unexpected move to Thursday where it is being paired with “Bang,” which could be just the thing to keep a series rolling that already has plenty of mileage on it.
Not sure whether this is a coincidence or WBTV Peter Roth somehow masterminded this sweep, but give the man a raise.
Showing love to outside studios wasn’t restricted to WBTV, however. Universal Television got a choice time slot for its only sale of the season outside NBC, “The Mindy Project,” with “New Girl” behind it (sixth highest-rated available lead-in). Now Fox has “Mindy” in the same Tuesday 9:30 p.m. time slot opposite what may be NBC’s own most promising comedy, “The New Normal.” They might be able to coexist, but is this worth the risk?
ABC is showing a little more sense. The fifth highest-rated available lead-in, “Once Upon A Time,” is being used as a lead-in for an ABC Studios show, “Revenge,” at 9 p.m. ABC also uses what may be its most effective lead-in property, “Dancing with the Stars,” to support its sister studio, both on Monday at 10 p.m., where ABC Studio’s “Castle” resides, and on Tuesday at 9 p.m., where as of Oct. 23, “Happy Endings,” comes in. Ownership of that comedy is split between ABC Studios and Sony Pictures Television. CBS also put new shows in behind the seventh and eighth highest-rated available time slots, "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "Person of Interest."
There will be those that argue the broadcasters should be commended for their agnostic approach to programming. They're letting the best creative get the best time slots, provenance be damned. That's all well and good, but maybe this means the sister studios should take a more targeted approach to serving their siblings’ highest-priority development needs to support their mutual financial interest. There's only so much you can do to anticipate time-slot vacancies ahead of time, but that's not entirely true when you consider, for example, that Fox has been planning a four-comedy block on Tuesdays well in advance.
What might be a more compelling counterargument is that no matter what time slot you get on the fall schedule, debuting in the fall in and of itself is a less coveted launch pad than the less crowded environs of the midseason. Let's see if the shows that get added to the schedule in the months ahead prove the broadcasters and their studios are savvier than this fall makes them appear to be.