Should The Networks Look To The Minors (Cable) For Hits?

Networks should keep to their promise: fewer development deals, and even fewer pilots. The alternative? Do what any other big-league team with a long-term vision does  -- pick your best prospects from the minor leagues.

It's the cable networks: USA Network, TNT, FX, etc.

Some may say calling cable the minor leagues isn't fair. But the fact is, on a rating or on a per-episode advertising basis, cable networks still don't do anything near the numbers, nor the ad revenue of network TV.

Network executives say they want to develop programs slowly, assuring that shows achieve a good track record before they ramp up all their marketing resources.

This road has been traveled already. NBC has already aired USA's "Monk" and will do so again this April, along with its twin Friday night USA Network program, "Psych." The two shows will air on Sunday nights on NBC.

CBS has already done this with "Dexter" -- which achieved modest mid-two ratings for adult 18-49 viewers. Not that bad, according to competing network executives. Expect sort of the same performance levels for "Monk" and "Psych." In the past, some networks such as ABC ran ABC Family's "Kyle XY" as a broadcast network program to help fill out its summer schedule.

The recent cable-to-broadcast moves have been the result of the writers' strike. Now that the strike is over, the network would do well to continue, with the ultimate goal of having a cable show earning a big rating -- say a five or six.  

What would happen if ABC decided on a full-scale launch of, say, Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana"? Probably not much. This show has a narrow target of viewers, akin to CW's young girl/woman-oriented shows.

But someday a major hit -- call it a crossover hit -- might land on the networks, and that will turn everything upside down. Will a broadcast network take credit for making such a big move? Or does the credit go to the cable network, which does what it always does with its precious few first-run shows: offer up slow nurturing?  

The lessons are these: Don't build your development team with big contracts for last year's big program producers. That .350 hitter will probably be batting .272, when all is said and done.

Instead, go with the young, undiscovered hard-throwing left-hander, and the blossoming power-hitting and great-fielding first baseman. Maybe not right away, but your farm system will give you better chances to get to the World Series.



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