The success or failure of a show can often hinge on finding the right slot or the right channel for it to air on. For example, it would have been fascinating to see how critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead performed if they had been placed in free-to-air primetime as opposed to cable TV.
It’s possible they would have been axed after a few episodes instead of developing into the pop culture phenomena we know today.
With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that UK broadcaster ITV has just acquired seasons three and four of US spy drama The Americans from Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution for its digital channel ITV Encore.
This deal comes despite the fact that the pubcaster’s main free-to-air channel ITV, which originally aired the show in the UK, dropped it after two seasons. These first two runs will now play out on ITV Encore ahead of the newly acquired seasons.
The message, then, is that The Americans is better suited to a pay environment. Perhaps this is no surprise when you consider that the show, which tells the story of two KGB spies posing as an American husband and wife in Washington during the Cold War, airs on cable channel FX in the US.
But it reinforces the broader notion that we are currently operating in an era when there is a clear distinction between the kind of scripted shows that work on free as opposed to pay/SVoD television.
The decision to air the show on ITV Encore also suggests there has been a reappraisal of what the channel is going to be. Launched in 2014, a lot of its content to date has been re-runs of classic British dramas such as Poirot, Vera, Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and DCI Banks – giving the channel a crime/period profile.
However, these shows are all currently being outperformed by another acquisition, the Swedish series Jordskott. With the Nordic crime drama drawing an audience of between 100,000 and 200,000 viewers per episode (seven-day ratings figures), it suggests the ITV Encore audience would rather see original foreign series than homegrown re-runs (even if the latter are very good). Aside from Jordskott and The Americans, the channel has also aired the US version of Broadchurch (Gracepoint) and is gearing up for the launch of its first original commission, Midwinter of the Spirit.
In the US, Telemundo is celebrating the fact that on July 21 it ranked as the number-one Spanish-language network among adults 18-49 in primetime, beating Univision by 3%. According to the channel, “this marks the first time in history that Telemundo topped Univision in weekday prime with its regular line-up.”
A key part of the channel’s success has been season three of scripted series El Señor de los Cielos (aka Lord of the Skies). The show was ranked number one among all broadcast and cable networks, regardless of language, at 22.00 in adults 18-49.
A US-produced series from Argos Comunicacion and Telemundo, El Señor de los Cielos tells the story of drug dealer Aurelio Casillas and his ruthless rise to power. It is based loosely on the life of real Mexican druglord Amado Carillo Fuentes.
The show first aired in 2013 with a debut season of 74 episodes. This was followed by 84 episodes in season two and an as-yet-unquantified number in season three. So successful is the show that Telemundo confirmed plans for a fourth season at its Upfronts presentation in May this year.
Although the series is produced in the US, its high episode count makes it more like a telenovela than a US drama – an advantage when taking shows out to international distribution. By the end of season four, Telemundo will already be able to offer buyers 300 episodes (equivalent to around 12 years’ worth of a US returning series).
Still in the US, Variety conducted an interesting survey this week, asking three leading media-buying agencies which shows they think will attract the most viewers in the upcoming autumn season (and thus be most appealing to advertisers).
Among dramas, the top pick is season two of Empire (on Fox), which is no real surprise given the success of the first run. And there are high expectations for the return of the Shonda Rhimes hits Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder (both ABC).
More interesting, perhaps, are the new shows that are expected to do well. Here, the top three picks are Fox’s reboot of The X-Files, followed by NBC’s Blindspot and ABC’s The Catch. The Catch is another show for ABC from the Shonda Rhimes hit factory and is expected to be given a lead-in by one of her other shows.
Cable channel Spike is investing heavily in scripted shows at the moment. Its first project, Tut, debuted on July 19 and got off to a good start. With 1.7 million viewers tuning in for the first episode, Spike achieved its biggest Sunday night primetime audience since May 25, 2008.
More saliently, the figure was 123% ahead of last week’s primetime average. “We are thrilled that Tut resonated with viewers and delivered a big audience for Spike’s first scripted event series in almost a decade,” said Sharon Levy, Spike’s exec VP of original series.
Elsewhere, another piece of reimagined history is coming to a close, with Starz announcing this week that the third season of David Goyer’s Da Vinci’s Demons will be its last.
Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik said: “David Goyer brought us a plan to portray the unknown early years of a genius and we think the fans will enjoy this final chapter, which segues into the da Vinci history knows.”
A few weeks ago, we talked up the performance of a grisly French thriller called Witnesses, which was rating well in its home market. This week, the show debuted on Channel 4 in the UK, which was clearly hoping to repeat the success of its previous French drama acquisition Les Revenants (The Returned). Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however, with Witnesses only managing to attract around 550,000 viewers in its 22.00 slot. This is about a third of The Returned’s audience when it launched back in 2013.
In defence of Witnesses, The Returned aired an hour earlier at 2100, which would have given it access to a bigger audience. However, Witnesses was also well down on the 22.00 slot average, which will be a source of disappointment for C4. It was also bested by Channel 5’s Aussie prison drama import Wentworth.
Despite this, UK newspaper critics were mostly positive about the show. The Guardian called it “rather promising,” adding that it “bodes well for Channel 4’s imminent on-demand service, 4World Drama.”
The Independent, meanwhile, said referring to the show as ‘The French Broadchurch’ doesn’t do it justice: “This classy, creepy thriller should be judged on its own merits, rather than compared to our Dorset-filmed whodunit and its Scandi-noir forebears”.
So it’s just possible that Witnesses could be a bit of a sleeper hit. What it needs now is the 550,000 people who tuned in to the first episode to get onto social media and tell their friends to watch it.
On the subject of social media, a round of applause please for Syfy’s global pop culture phenomenon, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, which has generated a staggering two billion Twitter impressions – doubling the impressions for 2014’s Sharknado 2: The Second One.
Video clips from Sharknado 3 have generated nearly six million views to date, including 4.1 million on Syfy’s YouTube channel. The film itself debuted on Wednesday, July 22, so we’re just waiting for the TV ratings at time of writing.
Unsurprisingly given the noise created by the third edition, Syfy has greenlit Sharknado 4. Chris Regina, senior VP of programme strategy at Syfy, said: “Sharknado 3 may have devoured half of America’s celebrities, but there are still hungry fans and sharks to feed, so the adventure continues – not in a galaxy far, far away, but on your television sets next July.”