Fans go Gaga for Hotel – but what next?

Andy Fry
By Andy Fry
January 15, 2016

Hit & Miss
Lady Gaga in American Horror Story: Hotel
Lady Gaga in American Horror Story: Hotel

The Golden Globes award ceremony was a perfect example of why you might want to put Lady Gaga in your TV drama. Not only is she a good actress, as evidenced by her performance in FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel, but her every slightest action sends the media into a feeding frenzy. When she brushed past fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio to collect her award for her role in the anthology series, she made front-page news around the world.

The Gaga factor was also evident during the first episode of AHS: Hotel, which attracted a staggering 5.81 million viewers when it launched on October 7 last year. Within weeks, FX had announced an order for season six of the franchise. Creator Ryan Murphy even went as far as to suggest that it might be possible to run two seasons of the AHS franchise per year, in spring and autumn.

Celebrity casting is, however, the TV equivalent of a sugar rush. Although Gaga’s casting had an amazing impact on AHS: Hotel’s first few episodes, the show has actually been on a steady downward slide across its entire run. From its opening high it has dropped to just 1.84 million (with the figures for the most recent episode not in at time of writing).

FX can still argue, truthfully, that the show is one of its strongest performers and that its average across the season is well ahead of channel average. But to shed 70% of its audience across a season still seems like a missed opportunity. It didn’t happen to other standout cable shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead or Sons of Anarchy.

So, given that Gaga triumphed at the Globes – which means her performance was, objectively, speaking a good one – what does AHS: Hotel’s ratings decline tell us? Well, possibly it means Hotel wasn’t very good. For comparison, AHS season four, Freak Show, rarely dropped below three million viewers and finished with an average of 3.85 million.

Scream Queens
Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens has achieved so-so results on Fox

Or maybe the audience is getting bored with horror – a genre that has been on the crest of a wave recently. After all, Murphy’s other anthology horror offering, Scream Queens has only managed to turn in a so-so performance on Fox. Just how many malformed monsters can squeeze underneath one bed?

Or maybe the AHS production team needed to carry out a bit more pre-production analysis into the kind of celebrity whose fans might stick with the show (a kind of Amazon or Netflix-style data analysis). A Golden Globe winner she might be, but perhaps there wasn’t a close enough overlap between Lady Gaga’s fanbase and that of AHS. For the long-term health of the franchise, it might have been better to cast a celebrity whose fanbase wasn’t likely to jump ship halfway through. Whatever FX chooses to glean from the show’s decline, there’s no question it’s going to have to find another big name to lead in the sixth series, the subject of which is yet to be revealed.

Heroes Reborn will not return
Heroes Reborn will not return

Still in the US, NBC has just announced that Heroes Reborn will not be renewed. Speaking to journalists, NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt made out it was no big deal by suggesting the show was only ever meant to be a limited series. But the reality is that the show didn’t really capture the audience’s interest. Having started at the 6.5 million mark, it settled down at 3.7 million for the back end of the 13-part run (this is on network television, as opposed to the lower-scoring cable universe).

As its name suggests, Heroes Reborn was a reboot of Tim Kring’s original Heroes series – but it looks like the latent demand for the franchise that NBC had anticipated didn’t really exist. Perhaps we will see the franchise return again in a decade or two. But for now it’s a reminder, if we needed one, that bringing back a classic series isn’t a guarantee of success. The news won’t be too disheartening for Kring, who is partnering with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson on Fox series Boost Unit.

Pretty Little Liars
Pretty Little Liars is still going strong

Pretty Little Liars, a hit show for Freeform (the new name for ABC Family), returned to the air this week after a four-month break. And it did pretty well, generating an audience of 2.25 million viewers. There had been fears the show might suffer after a closely followed plotline was resolved in the last episode before the break. Figures were down, but not enough to set any alarm bells ringing.

In fact, it also provided a good launch pad for a new show called Shadowhunters, which followed it in the schedule. Shadowhunters, about a group of demon-hunting teenagers who are part angel, part human (sound like Buffy?), attracted 1.82 million viewers, making it the channel’s best new show in two years. The last big debut for Freeform was Ravenswood, a spin-off of the bankable Pretty Little Liars.

Shadowhunters
Shadowhunters opened strongly

In the UK, all eyes are on the BBC’s lavish six-part adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The first two episodes were pretty good and have drawn a positive critical response. The harsher critics have accused it of being a bit soapy, a bit racy, a bit English and maybe just lacking some of the gravitas you’d associate with Tolstoy. But as Sunday evening entertainment, it’s a noble effort that benefits from a strong cast and Andrew Davies’ clever ability to cut to the heart of a complex story.

In ratings terms, it debuted to 6.3 million and then dropped to 5.3 million for episode two. That’s a strong performance with a not-unexpected drop for episode two – more like Poldark than Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The performance of episode three will probably give us our best insight into how this six-part series will pan out. Lose another 1-1.5 million and it will look as though viewers are tiring of the show. But anything above 4.5 million and it will feel like it has found a loyal audience. All of which is significant to the international drama market because the performance of War and Peace may impact investment decisions related to other classic doorstop-novel adaptations.

Gillian Anderson and Paul Dano in War and Peace
Gillian Anderson and Paul Dano in War and Peace

Playing opposite War and Peace in the UK was German-language drama Deutschland 83. Broadcast by Channel 4, the first two episodes of the show have scored 1.5 million and 1.1 million respectively, a strong performance.

With The Bridge (Sweden/Denmark) achieving audiences of around 1.4-1.5 million on BBC4 just before Christmas and The Young Montalbano (Italy) debuting with one million in January (also BBC4), it’s clear that a significant section of the UK population is now comfortable with non-English content – which is good news for mainland Europe.

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