Three Approaches to Great TV Scheduling

The Ratings Junkie Sunday, October 04, 2015
Now, I'm no network executive, but I have been following historical scheduling, what has worked, and what hasn't. Based on what I have seen, I have developed a theory that there are three main factors that work into a successful schedule. These are stability, compatibility, and reliability.

My definition of the "Three Main -ility Rule" is that with stability and compatibility come reliability. Let's take a little more of a deeper look into this, shall we?

Examples of Stability

  1. ABC Wednesday
  2. TGIT
  3. FOX Sunday
  4. ABC Monday
  5. CBS Friday

With stability comes less of a need to provide extensive promotion for the shows since they are veterans remaining in the same time slot, and instead opt to promote brand new shows. The biggest con to this, however, is over time a less-promoted-yet-stable block will indeed decline in the ratings for the lack of priority the network gives them in advertising.

Examples of Reliability

  1. The Middle
  2. Blue Bloods
  3. Bones
  4. Law & Order: SVU

With the exception of Bones, all of these shows have seen very little, if any, movement on the schedule in the past half decade. And even then, Bones had proven to be one of the more outstanding shows to hold when jerked around on the schedule so often. Really, you could add most all
syndicated anchors to this list. There are shows like Family Guy and Grey’s Anatomy that are only a small fraction of what they were at their peaks, but they are still reliable in that there is a very little chance than they will crash to the point of cancellation, and more importantly are able to provide a solid lead-in or keep a time slot stable.

Examples of Compatibility 

  1. The Middle-The Goldbergs
  2. The Simpsons-Bob’s Burgers-Family Guy
  3. NCIS-NCIS spinoff
  4. Madam Secretary-The Good Wife

Notice that this second block is no longer together, and while Bob’s Burgers is doing, well, meh in the 7:30 time slot, I think the lack of an animated segway between the two animated anchors has proved to be a problem for both. Note also that The Goldbergs has done better airing out of The Middle than anywhere else—sure, it outrages its lead-in the the A18-49 demo, but its Wednesday ratings (2014-2015) are up about 30% from its Tuesday ratings, and one of the low points of its season was when it aired twice in the same night—the episode following The Middle did better than the one not, despite having a very similar lead-in (and it was very clearly advertised that it was airing
twice a night, so I don’t think it had that much to do with having an out-of-timeslot airing). Then the third combo; it’s pretty self-explanatory, just look at how much better NCIS: LA did out of NCIS for five seasons than it does now without it. An all-NCIS night probably would have worked better in my opinion. Then there’s Madam Secretary-The Good Wife, which although low-rated both skew very similarly in many sub demos, so I suspect some crossover audience.

You know which shows haven’t had many compatible companions? The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Voice, etc. Networks have figured to use these big hits (used-to-be, if we’re talking about Idol) to launch new shows and then move them. This definitely works in the short-term, but all too often these shows are collapsing. This can be due to a couple things: maybe the show just wasn’t good and only received post-tune from its monstrous lead-in (looking at you, The Millers). Maybe it wasn’t given enough time to find a solid fanbase to execute a move right away (Happy Endings). Maybe the show actually worked in its time slot and its fans weren’t willing to adapt to its new, tougher one (The Blacklist). 

Over the next series of posts, I will go in-depth about what I believe constitutes a great schedule, so keep checking back and enjoy!

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