Hustling for a Hit: The Challenges of Developing a TV Show Audience

If you’re in TV and not involved with a live sporting event, odds are you have been fighting a battle to find and keep viewers.

It’s not that people aren’t open to new shows to enjoy. It’s just when presented with the option of exploring and potentially being disappointed versus remaining with what is known, the majority of people tend to stay with the known quantity.

It used to be, with little exception, that when a TV series ended the viewers of that show had to move on to a new favorite. However now, with new streaming options such as Netflix and a proliferation of TV channels like TVLand, Bounce and Antenna re-airing classic shows, many viewers don’t have to leave the safe haven of re-watching their favorite shows to discover new favorites.

And the instant gratification aspect that has permeated life in general during the modern times we live in isn’t helping the audience development chances for many series.

In 2014, 24 TV series debuted on the big 4 networks (ABC, CBS, the CW, NBC) during the fall season. By mid-February 2015, 6 of those shows had already been cancelled. That’s 25% of the freshman shows going away before a large number of TV viewers probably knew the shows existed – and that number doesn’t count the 3 shows that endured a production halt or a trimming of its episode order within the same time frame.

“You’re under this pressure to have that opening weekend,” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Robert Carlock told AdWeek in early 2015. “It’s [become] like the movies, really.”

However, simply making the premiere to gauge the audience for a show can sometimes be a challenge. Consider the case of the shows like Next Caller. NBC picked up the show to air in the 2012-2013 mid-season only to cancel it – before even airing an episode.

So how do writers, producers, and networks break through the crowd and find an audience for their new series? According to comedienne Mindy Kaling, who created and stars in her own show on Fox, the answer is relevancy. “You have to be relevant, because if you’re not getting the numbers you hope you get, it at least has to be the kind of show people are always talking about.”


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