TV: How To Pair Shows Up

Just a very quick thought based on something that was said at the Television Critics’ Association event. A Fox executive was asked about the future of different types of comedy on the network, and said that they hadn’t given up on any particular type of format, but that it’s very difficult to pick up just one multi-camera or just one single-camera half-hour — they need to be paired with compatible shows. (So having decided, correctly, that Raising Hope was their best bet for the new season, they looked for shows that would fit after Raising Hope. The show they came up with was Running Wilde, but the basic idea was a sensible one.) I nodded when I heard that, since it’s been proven many times in the last five years or maybe more. Think of ABC’s awkward attempts to fit multi-camera shows into otherwise all-single-camera lineups; on the other hand, remember how CBS tried to put the single-camera Worst Week after Two and a Half Men. On Fox, remember how the network has repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to put one live-action comedy into its Sunday night lineup. All these missteps suggest that it’s not enough to put a comedy after another comedy — they have to be at least somewhat compatible in look, feel, format and tone.

And yet while that’s unquestionably true now, I don’t think it was always true. Back when The Simpsons was Fox’s only animated comedy, it was paired with live-action comedies, and while some of them were not successful, others were. That ’70s Show and Malcolm in the Middle are examples of shows that were launched in that slot. As for single-camera paired with multi-camera, it’s harder (unless the single-camera show has a laugh track like in the ’60s) but it’s been done. NBC aired Scrubs after Friends with fair success, enough to get the show enough of a following that it was able to last for years in other time slots. Going back to the ’80s, The Wonder Years successfully aired after Who’s the Boss? and ABC had a year of good numbers for a comedy lineup that alternated single-camera with multi-camera.

Just because something has been done in the past doesn’t mean it can be done now, and based on the experience of the last few years, I believe that network executives are right: they can’t mix and match different types of shows the way they used to. It just seems counter-intuitive. Time slots are supposed to matter less in the DVR and online era, and yet I think it may be that they matter even more; finding the right night, the right block, for a show is vitally important. Maybe as there are more reasons for viewers to switch channels or turn off the TV altogether (and watch TV in some other format, I mean; you won’t catch me suggesting that we read a book), it becomes more essential to give viewers a reason not to change the channel, and that means making sure that whoever tuned in to watch show X will also be interested in show Y. You can’t just assume we’ll stick around based on the assumption that if the last show was good, the next one will be. The network has to prove it by offering something similar.


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