Tag Archives: The Muppets

TV jury finds in favour of FX OJ drama

Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson
Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson

Pre-transmission reviews suggested US cable network FX might be on to a winner with its new anthology series The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, and that hunch has now been borne out with episode one of the true-life crime drama attracting 5.1 million viewers.

That’s a huge figure for a cable drama and one that includes a high percentage of 18- to 49-year-olds. Possibly we can attribute some of that figure to heavyweight marketing by FX. But the fact the show also generated a 9.1 rating on IMDb suggests there is enough audience appreciation to help it keep up its momentum.

To put the show’s performance into perspective, it is the highest debut ever for FX – beating The Shield’s premiere in 2002. It’s also almost double the audience that tuned in for the premiere of Fargo in 2014. While it is a bit premature to talk about renewal, there are enough highly charged legal cases in recent US history to suggest American Crime Story could run for years.

One other network that will be happy is BBC2 in the UK, which has acquired the show for a mid-February transmission. If the series does as well in the UK as it is doing in the US, it will be another feather in the cap of Sue Deeks, BBC head of programme acquisitions, who has also played a large part in bringing Nordic Noir to the English-speaking world.

Deeks described the The People vs OJ Simpson “a fascinating and totally absorbing dramatisation of a case seared into the public consciousness. It is a case you might think you know all about – but believe me, you don’t know the half of it.”

The return of The X-Files has proved enormously popular around the world
The return of The X-Files has proved enormously popular around the world

The success of the FX show is the second good piece of news for the Fox family after a strong start for Fox’s reboot of Chris Carter’s The X-Files. Episode three of that six-part show has dropped a bit to 8.37 million viewers but this still represents a strong performance.

During the week, Fox also released figures showing that The X-Files has been a hit on the international market. Premiering within 24 hours of the US launch across 80 countries, the show attracted more than 50 million viewers, which Fox calls a “new ratings records in multiple markets.”

Among the highlights from that international performance, Fox says The X-Files matched or surpassed the season six premiere of The Walking Dead in several Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Across 11 European Fox markets, the episode one premiere was seen by more than 2.5 million viewers, with an average audience of 1.7 million. In Canada, the show debuted as the most watched series premiere of the 2015/16 season with 2.4 million viewers on Sunday January 24. With premieres still to come in the UK, Germany, France, Australia and India, Fox expects the total worldwide audience to grow considerably from its current level.

Still in the US, NBC has this week decided to renew Law & Order: SVU for an 18th season and Chicago Med for a second. With Chicago Fire and Chicago PD already renewed, this means veteran showrunner Dick Wolf now has an incredible four scripted series up and running on the network.

Chigaco Med, one of four Dick Wolf procedurals airing on NBC
Chigaco Med is one of four Dick Wolf procedurals currently airing on NBC

At a time when the industry is supposed to be short of good procedurals, Wolf’s shows occupy four of the top five slots on NBC in terms of drama ratings for 2015/2016. With audiences ranging from 6.8 million to 8.2 million per episode across the four shows, only Blindspot is outperforming Wolf’s portfolio of dramas.

Sticking with NBC for a moment, one show that does seem to be on its way out is Grimm, which is now part way through its fifth season. For much of this season, the show has been pulling in an audience of around 3.6 million to 3.8 million, which is down on the last couple of seasons. With enough episodes in the bag for the show to succeed in syndication – and the Wolf dramas taking up a large piece of network real estate – NBC really needs to cancel Grimm in the name of creative renewal. Until now, NBC has hedged its bets – pointing out that Grimm sells well overseas and is also strong in terms of delayed viewing. But it would be a surprise if the show came back for season six.

Another show that must be a candidate for cancellation is ABC’s reboot of The Muppets, which has been in freefall since its debut last September. After starting with nine million viewers, it was down to 3.8 million by December 8, at which point it took a mid-season break. The show underwent a bit of a revamp over winter in order to take it closer to its fun-loving roots. But an audience of 2.75 million for its February 2 episode suggests viewers have given up on the series. Assume The Muppets will be cancelled and then revived as a movie in a few years.

James Nesbitt in Stan Lee's Lucky Man, which airs on Sky1
James Nesbitt in Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which has opened strongly on Sky1

In the UK, pay TV channel Sky1 got off to a very strong start with its new series Spike Lee’s Lucky Man, which stars James Nesbitt. BARB figures for the week of January 18 to 24 show that the production attracted 1.6 million viewers (seven-day figure). This puts Lucky Man up alongside popular US imports like The Flash. As always, the acid test will be how the show stands up over the next couple of weeks. To put it in context, Supergirl started at about the same level on Sky 1 but by mid-season had shed half its audience.

Still with Sky, there are reports this week that Dennis Quaid is joining the cast of Sky Atlantic drama Fortitude for season two. This is likely to give the show a ratings boost in its early episodes. Last year, the pre-launch marketing campaign for Fortitude made much of the fact that the show starred Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon and Christopher Eccleston. This undoubtedly encouraged new audiences to sample Sky Atlantic. The only thing Quaid needs to be wary of is that – spoiler alert – all the big-name stars ended up dead last season (Eccleston almost before he opened his mouth). So he’ll need to watch his back.

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US networks go easy with the axe

Minority Report has been cut to 10 episodes
Fox has cut sci-fi drama Minority Report to 10 episodes

The big four US networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) are playing a strange game this year. Usually by now they would have axed their underperforming new shows.

But instead they have adopted a policy of reducing the number of episodes they initially ordered then letting the shows in question quietly crawl away to die.

A case in point is Fox’s Minority Report, which was initially meant to have 13 episodes. But after failing to impress in the ratings, its order was cut to 10. The same has happened to ABC’s Blood and Oil and NBC’s Truth Be Told, also reduced to 10. NBC also cut Wesley Snipes drama The Player to nine episodes after poor ratings.

Various theories have been put forward to explain this emerging trend. One is that the networks have decided to give scripted shows more time because of the complex nature of audience behaviour these days. With so much time-shifting going on, they don’t want to kill a show off before they know for sure it is a dud.

This thesis takes on added weight now that subscription VoD platforms like Netflix and Amazon have started picking up and reviving a few axed shows. The last thing the networks want to do is produce a show and then hand the benefit to their fast-growing rivals.

Another possibility, mooted by E! News, is that networks don’t want to face flak from fans by axing a show early. By giving these shows a reasonable run out, it’s a way of reducing the size of the social media backlash that invariably follows cancellation.

Alternatively, there may be a commercial agenda here. Possibly the networks have decided there’s more value in having nine or 10 episodes of a show with closure than four or five without a satisfactory end. Such is the international demand for drama content that maybe there is an opportunity to recoup some of the cost of production via the distribution side of the business.

Wicked City is struggling on ABC
Wicked City is struggling on ABC

Some international channels would rather have a single series of a big-budget American series (complete with star) than none at all.

Whatever the reason, it will be interesting to see what it takes to finally push one of the big four networks over the edge into cancelling a scripted show. There is, for example, a particularly badly performing anthology show on ABC right now called Wicked City.

Three episodes in, the show has seen its ratings fall from 3.3 million to 2.4 million to 1.7 million, making it the joint lowest-rated non-Saturday drama original on the major four broadcast networks in Nielsen People Meter history. If that isn’t a good enough reason to axe a series then we may never see a cancellation again.

While Minority Report has failed to live up to expectations, another Philip K Dick-based project is receiving plenty of plaudits ahead of its appearance on Amazon. The Man in the High Castle, a 10-parter that will launch on November 20, is an alternative-history drama that imagines a world in which the Nazis and Japan each control half of the US (having won the Second World War).

Adapted for TV by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files), a recent screening of the show received a swathe of positive reviews. While we are unlike to ever see any ratings for The Man in the High Castle, Amazon is confident it could be a game-changer for the platform.

Buzz is building around Amazon's The Man in the High Castle
Buzz is building around Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle

Russell Morris, marketing and merchandising director of Amazon Video in the UK, says: “All the data points to this being our out-and-out success.” It’s unusual for Amazon to be so openly enthusiastic, but an 8.4 rating on IMDb suggests the series is already starting to build up some decent momentum.

There are also positive noises for Crackle’s The Art of More, which debuts on November 19. Starring Dennis Quaid as a ruthless real-estate billionaire, the 10-episode first season is set in a high-octane version of the art world, where rival auction houses battle to secure the best clients and works of art are smuggled into the US from exotic locations.

Deadline – particularly impressed with Quaid’s performance – has declared itself a fan of the show, which has already managed to rack up quite a few international sales.

While The Man in the High Castle and The Art of More are yet to launch, one show that has already established itself as a huge franchise is FX’s anthology drama American Horror Story (AHS), created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.

Now in its fifth season, AHS: Hotel, the show is averaging 3.8 million viewers, which makes it the channel’s highest-rated scripted series. As a reward for its strong showing, FX this week announced that there will be a sixth season.

John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions, says: “American Horror Story has unquestionably joined the ranks of television’s landmark series. From Murder House to Hotel, AHS has pioneered a new TV form as well becoming FX’s highest-rated show – while also pushing every conceivable boundary of creative excellence and audacity.

The Art of More begins on Crackle next week
The Art of More begins on Crackle next week

“This is even more remarkable because Ryan and Brad tear up the playbook every year, challenging the entire creative team to come up with something even more spectacular, frightful and entertaining. You could not ask more of an artist, their team or a series.”

The icing on the cake for FX is that AHS is not just a ratings success, but also an award winner. The first four seasons received 71 Emmy nominations and 13 Emmy wins, including five awards for its fourth instalment, AHS: Freak Show.

Finally, this week, it’s interesting to note that there is another trend in the market right now – the ‘falling off a cliff’ phenomenon. This is where shows start incredibly strongly then see their ratings collapse almost immediately. ABC’s The Muppets is a case in point, with its ratings dropping from nine million to 5.8 million viewers between episodes one and two and then continuing to slide, so that they are now below the four million mark at episode seven.

CBS’s Supergirl is now experiencing something similar, with ratings for the first three episodes going from 12.9 million to 8.9 million to eight million. Although some ground will be clawed back once the time-shifted numbers are in, that’s still a pretty precipitous drop. NBC’s Heroes Reborn and ABC’s Quantico are showing similar fragility.

The latest American Horror Story series, Hotel, continues to deliver for FX
The latest American Horror Story series, Hotel, continues to deliver for FX

What’s behind this? It seems to be a combination of two factors. First, networks are getting very good at generating a movie-style buzz around their new series so that audiences feel compelled to be in at the start. This is particularly true when we’re talking about a rebooted idea, because large swathes of the TV population are lured in by the promise of a nostalgia fix.

Having grabbed the audience’s attention, however, the slightest misbeat on the part of the show and viewers lose interest – creating the mass migration effect seen with programmes like The Muppets.

Like the apocryphal script reader who knows 10 ten pages whether he or she is in the presence of a great script or another addition to the recycling pile, a significant part of the audience will cut its losses before the first ad break has occurred – turning to rival channels or second-screen entertainment.

An interesting premise or unusual setup may hold the audience in for a little longer, but in the end the only thing that will get them to come back for a second helping is genuinely compelling work. And even in this ‘golden age’ of drama, that is still quite rare.

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Hot or not?

It’s a truism in the TV business that audiences prefer domestically produced dramas over acquired series. But for many territories, the next best thing after homegrown shows is US scripted content. That’s why, on the eve of programme market Mipcom, international TV channel buyers will be watching US schedules closely.

Right now is an important juncture in the year because US broadcast and cable networks have just launched their latest batch of new shows. While some international networks have already acquired these series (basing their decisions on scripts or pilots), many prefer to wait and see how well shows rate before committing their cash.

From this perspective, Mipcom comes at the perfect time, providing a great opportunity for buyers and sellers to discuss a show’s performance face to face in Cannes.

In this week’s column, we take a look at some of the new drama series that have just hit the US market, providing a few pointers as to how they are shaping up during their debut seasons. The shows are listed according to how well they have started out.

blindspotBlindspot
NBC’s Blindspot is one of the top performers among this year’s new US dramas. Last week, we reported that its first episode attracted 10.6 million viewers and a 3.1 rating among 18-49s. Since then, delayed viewing has pushed the show’s total viewership up to 15.9 million (Live+3 ratings). The show, which centres on a tattooed woman found in a duffel bag in Times Square, has been given the go-ahead by NBC to deliver nine more scripts — an encouraging sign. Buyers that pick up this series can be confident it will come back for a second season. The show is distributed by Warner Brothers International Distribution, which has already licensed it to TVNZ New Zealand, CTV Canada and Sky Living in the UK.

quantico-abcQuantico
We took a close look at ABC’s Quantico in this week’s Writers Room. The story of a group of FBI trainees attempting to foil a terrorist plot attracted 7.1 million viewers and a 1.9 rating among adults aged 18-49 in its Sunday 22.00 slot. This is a good opening, and the reviews have also been generally positive. Distributed by Disney, the show has already been sold to CTV Canada and UKTV in the UK. Quantico doesn’t look as much like a dead cert as Blindspot to return, but it is better positioned than most shows to get a renewal.

Brian-Finch-in-Limitless-seriesLimitless
A spin-off from the Bradley Cooper-starring movie of the same name, Limitless is about a man who takes a super drug that allows him to use 100% of his brain’s potential. He then uses his newfound ability to work with the FBI. Airing on CBS, Limitless was one of the strongest performers among the new shows, attracting 9.8 million viewers for its first episode. The show then attracted 9.6 million for its second episode, which is a pretty good audience retention level. Also positive is that the show stayed strong among the 18-49 demo (1.9 rating). Limitless stands a pretty good chance of renewal, though it is too early to call. It is distributed internationally by CBS Studios International, which has already licensed the show to the likes of Fox TV in Sweden and RTL CBS Entertainment – a pan-regional pay TV channel in Asia.

MrRobotMr Robot
USA Network was so pleased with the first episode of this hacking drama that it immediately ordered a second season. With the first run now over, Mr Robot seems to have found a cult audience and a decent level of critical acclaim (an IMDb rating of 9.0 makes it one of the best-received of this year’s new shows). One buyer impressed by the series is Amazon, which swooped in and secured streaming rights to the first season. However, Amazon is not yet in many territories, so there is still plenty of scope for international networks to buy Mr Robot. It would probably suit a pay TV or subscription VoD platform – though an edgy terrestrial channel might also find a post-22.00 slot for it.

UnREALUnREAL
UnREAL aired on Lifetime this summer. Set against the backdrop of a fictional dating show, it focuses on flawed heroine Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby), a young producer whose sole job is to manipulate relationships between contestants to get the outrageous footage demanded by her executive producer, Quinn King (Constance Zimmer). UnREAL didn’t debut very strongly but Lifetime’s decision to stream a number of episodes online gave the show a boost. The series finished its run as Lifetime’s most successful ever among younger viewers (part of the channel’s plan) and has already secured a second season. The show is distributed by A+E Studios International, which is bringing Appleby and Zimmer to Mipcom. It airs on Lifetime in the UK and has been licensed to streaming services such as Stan (Australia) and Lightbox (New Zealand). Some networks will be put off by the fact it parodies the TV entertainment business, but others will embrace its slick humour.

heroesrebornHeroes Reborn
This revival of the Heroes franchise did moderately well on its return. Having scored a 2.0 rating among 18-49s on its opening night, time-shifted viewing took it up to a 3.1 rating (Live+3). Nielsen’s figures have Heroes Reborn ranking as the fourth best launch out of 11 on the big four US networks last week. A 7.9 rating on IMDb is not spectacular, but it’s okay to start with. The show was simulcast in Canada on Global and started airing on Seven Network Australia on September 30. The original series is currently on Netflix.

fearwalkingdeadFear The Walking Dead
You can understand the editorial and commercial reasons behind AMC’s decision to extend the world of The Walking Dead, but Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD) is not quite living up to the hype.  After a massive 10.1 million audience for episode one, it has since slumped significantly. The audience for episodes four and five was around the 6.5 million mark, which is good compared with other shows but not compared with its parent show. Season five of The Walking Dead averaged around 14.8 million. An IMDb rating of 7.8 suggests that the audience hasn’t really bought into FTWD – though there is time for that to change because AMC has already committed to a second season. Internationally, the show is airing on AMC Global where that channel is available (including territories in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East). In Australia it is on FX. Hulu has picked up US streaming rights while Amazon streams FTWD in Germany and Austria. One interesting development is that AMC has also created a 16-part web series, Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462, for its website (amc.com). One of the characters in the web series will be introduced in FTWD’s second season, which is a pretty cool piece of transmedia storytelling.

scream-queensScream Queens
There was a lot of prelaunch hype around Fox’s Scream Queens, an anthology comedy-horror series from Ryan Murphy (Glee) that makes heavy use of guest appearances by big stars (such as singer Ariana Grande). But the show hasn’t got off to a particularly strong start. Episodes one and two were shown as a two-hour special and attracted a modest 4.04 million viewers (1.7 rating among 18-49s). There was some improvement once time-shifted viewing for episode one was included, but the second episode’s audience of 3.76 million suggests Scream Queens hasn’t really managed to grip America’s imagination. Review site Rotten Tomatoes sums up the show: “Too tasteless for mainstream viewers and too silly for horror enthusiasts, Scream Queens fails to satisfy.” The series is distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, which has so far sold it to E4 in the UK, which is probably the right kind of home for it. Murphy’s involvement makes renewal a possibility, but Fox will want to see an upturn in the ratings to justify a new run.

MuppetsThe Muppets
A week ago, we would have been lauding the performance of the latest Muppets revamp. But a disastrous ratings decline for episode two changes the picture somewhat. For episode one on ABC, The Muppets attracted nine million viewers. But for episode two the show was down 35% to 5.8 million. There was also a drop-off in 18-49 viewers. The decline is so significant that we’re going to need a few weeks to see where the show settles down. Nevertheless, The Muppets has a sufficiently strong following globally that international sales are bound to follow for Disney. Early buyers of the show include Sky1 in the UK.

ThePlayerThe Player
The Player, another new drama from NBC, got off to a slow start. The main problem seems to be an over-complicated premise, which involves a secret amoral organisation that bets on crimes before they are committed. The first episode attracted a modest 1.2 rating among 18-49s on its first night and a total viewership of 4.68 million (rising to seven million after three days). Nevertheless, Sony Pictures Television (SPT), which distributes The Player internationally, has been very quick to secure some deals for the show. Broadcasters that have signed up include TF1 France, RTL Germany, AXN Spain, Seven Australia, D-Smart Turkey and OSN in the Middle East. All told, SPT has sold the show to broadcasters operating in 105 territories (some deals are pan-regional). Sales have probably been helped by the fact that the The Player features Wesley Snipes, but the chances of a renewal already look slim.

1443172256_minority-report-tv-show-meagan-good-stark-sandsMinority Report
A spin-off from the Tom Cruise movie of the same name, Minority Report hasn’t started very well. Episode one attracted an underwhelming 3.1 million viewers (1.1 rating among 18-49s). Fox fought a rearguard action by pointing to episode one’s increase as a result of time-shifted viewing. But episode two’s audience of 2.56 million (0.9 rating among 18-49s) shows a downward trend that is not encouraging. With IMDb giving the show a low 6.1 rating, it will be a major surprise if Minority Report makes it to season two. That will clearly impact on the distribution strategy for the series.

Finally, a brief mention for the BBC in the UK, which has been running a superb series of feature-length dramas based on classic British literary works. While the dramas in questions didn’t always rate highly, they were excellently produced and provided a great showcase for why public service broadcasting matters.

The top-rating production was An Inspector Calls (5.8 million), which has a particularly high profile in the UK. Next came Lady Chatterley’s Lover (4.9 million), then Cider with Rosie (3.9 million) and finally The Go-Between (2.6 million). The latter, based on a novel by LP Hartley, is the least well known of the four works, so its lower ratings aren’t too much of a surprise. But it was a well-made drama. Overall, these four films were a job well done by the BBC.

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