TV Programming 2008: By Appointment, Self-Service Or Drive-Through

What becomes a new TV series the most? It seems some old traditions still apply--lead-in, lead-out, and marketing--which can give a series lasting appeal. But should it?


Seemingly new and strong TV shows--even cable shows--continue to follow the trajectories of traditional TV scheduling. TNT's "Raising the Bar" rocketed to a record-setting 7.7 million viewers in its early September premiere. But in the most recent outing--week four-- the show's viewer balloon has much less air--now down to 2.3 million viewers in its most recent outing.

In previous weeks, "Bar" had perhaps the best lead-in program in cable--"The Closer," which has been its own record-setter for TNT. Even then, the numbers were trending lower for "Bar." In its most recent outing, TNT decided not to have "Bar" hold hands with "The Closer" any longer.

Then it hoped and closed its eyes. Unfortunately, viewers did too.



TNT has already committed to "Bar" for a bunch more episodes, which isn't necessarily bad. For some cable networks, 2.2 million viewers isn't too shabby--depending on production costs and other factors.

Other falling-outs: Highly marketed Fox drama "Fringe" dropped from a 5.2 to a 4.2 rating in its second week--even with the powerful "House" as its main lead-in benefactor. CW's new "90210" has lost steam from the euphoria of its opening week as has its lead-out program, "Privileged."

In this digital age, it is amazing that TV schedulers still cling to this process. The key question is how long to give it. Years ago, in the early 1990s, we all thought we were on the verge of a new trend, especially in hearing TV marketers talk up "appointment TV"--which meant the lead-in and lead-out programs were of lesser value. Back then, newfangled video-on-demand services also spoke to this.

In the age, a age, lead-in and lead-out scheduling theories are, of course, meaningless. It's all about environment, including that all-important social networking setting. Find a hip place to find video content and stick with it.

But the TV world still can't let go of this drug, especially when this stuff works--or seems to--in building enough sampling to where a show can go out on its own. True appointment TV isn't yet ready for the networks, although certainly for video Internet providers. For them it's all about self-service and pay (or not) at counter.

Maybe TV network programmers should just start lining the shelves and promoting shows in low-level newspaper circulars or direct mailings.

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