Two of these tools: strong program lead-ins and on-air promotion. Fox's "Glee" and CBS' "Undercover Boss" fit in these equations.
"Glee" got a strong marketing push starting last summer when Fox touted a one-off big episode -- all after being placed in a time slot right after TV's biggest launching pad, "American Idol." In the fall, "Glee" started up as a weekly series to good, but perhaps not great, numbers.
The show came back recently with a mid-season run of new episodes, again with much promotion and with "Idol" as its lead-in. This time the show's mid-season debut numbers were even better than the fall's start or last summer's solo episode.
CBS' "Undercover Boss," a new reality effort, got similar benefits from a strong lead-in and marketing equation. CBS took the unusual step -- at least for a network in recent years -- of launching a new show, "Boss," after the Super Bowl in February. For the previous several Super Bowls, networks played the safe route, giving that key time slot to existing shows, proven performers, in the hope of giving those programs an even wider audience.
"Boss" got big initial numbers from the game -- which was expected. What was unexpected was that it maintained interest among viewers, who were perhaps stirred by an American workforce under siege because of the crushing economy.
Some lesser-rated shows also got recent mid-season boosts because of decent lead-ins and marketing: ABC's second-year show "Castle" gained ratings ground from improved "Dancing with the Stars" lead-in ratings; NBC's rookie show "Parenthood" got some wind from "The Bigger Loser."
Then there is the other side of the story, which for TV strategists will prove again why lead-in still matters: NBC's Jay Leno-local TV news-Conan O'Brien fiasco.
Say what you will about those programs on an individual basis, but also look at the role lead-in played: Leno's weak ratings at 10 p.m. led to weaker NBC local TV news ratings, which in turn put the kibosh on O'Brien's ratings efforts.
You might say all is this short-term thinking in the digital age, when viewers can get whatever they want when they want. But one needs to back up a bit.
In a world of so many media choices, consumers don't always know what they want. They still need to be led sometimes.