Programming Executives May Need To Redefine 'Hit'

While unveiling new programs during next month's upfront presentations, broadcast network programmers should include a clear and perhaps frank addendum about those shows: There will be no more hits.

That will set the bar nice and low going into the upfront market, and then when the new David E. Kelly or Mark Burnett show arrives with a big, fat 2.3 rating among 18-49 viewers, networks executives can say "We told you so."

These days it's better to keep promises. Quite simply, underselling is cool.

Sound crazy? Consider this past season and the so-called hits. NBC's "Heroes"? Ratings have been dropping alarmingly. ABC's "Ugly Betty"? Please -- at mid 4 ratings among 18-49 viewers? What about "Shark" on CBS? It's getting a bit better -- but still not up to hit qualifications.

All the more reason why ex-MTV executive Herb Scannell's comments at a media conference in Los Angeles yesterday make sense. "Hits are getting hard in any business," he said. "You are starting to see a change in which what we thought of as being hits are no longer going to happen anymore."



Of course, Scannell knows from what he speaks. There haven't been any real hits at MTV recently -- not of the big cable-rated variety a la USA Network, TNT, or FX. The "Osbournes," "Real World," "Laguna Beach," and "Pimp My Ride," -while notable and buzzworthy, haven't yielded big, broad-based audiences.

But that's not a whack at MTV. It actually has been a harbinger of what's happening in the new digital world -- a world that evens the playing field into thousands of niche-content success stories among thousands of micro-targeted audiences.

Broadcast networks -- as well as any other traditional TV programmers -- are heading in the same direction. "American Idol" is the only true hit these days. By many projections, there won't be many others.

This upfront, network executives should just come clean, touting "average" TV shows that might interest "some" people.

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