Taking a Fresh Summer Approach

May 26, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The end of May sweeps and the arrival of summer traditionally signal a time when the television industry faces reduced viewing levels as people take to the outdoors and go on vacation. This seasonal trend inevitably brings lower advertising revenues. As a result, summer has typically been a time when the networks turn to reruns, burn off episodes of shows that failed during the season and run series that never made it onto the air.
This year shows signs of breaking that trend.
After years of talking about year-round programming, a number of networks appear to be looking at summer as an opportunity to get creative, take chances, try something new-in other words, to do more than merely survive summer. They are launching first-run programming that could pay dividends both now and later in the year. Fox in particular, fresh off an unexpectedly strong May sweeps, is poised to take a serious plunge into original programming this summer with the launch of a couple of solid scripted series, Keen Eddie and The O.C.
At other networks, summer is all about reality, continuing the trend of the past several years. That is not a surprise. After all, it was during the summer that CBS first launched Survivor, NBC introduced Fear Factor and Fox discovered the amazing draw of American Idol. In fact, this year’s summer reality offerings add up to something considerably more formidable than throwaway fare. They represent a serious commitment on the part of the broadcast networks.
At CBS, for example, Amazing Race 4 and Cupid are cued up for summer launches. NBC plans to roll out an extensive summer reality lineup that will feature high-end projects Last Comic Standing, The Restaurant and a reality version of Fame. Fox, meanwhile, has high expectations for Paradise Hotel.
A glut of reality always carries with it a caution: As the networks continue to scramble to cash in on the popularity of the genre, they may find increased resistance from some advertisers and may run the risk of infecting even the most faithful viewers with reality burnout. To that end, classy shows are a better bet than cheesy knockoffs. And this year’s crop does appear to be classier than average.
The broadcast nets seem to have learned a lesson from cable, which made great strides in the past two decades in part by recognizing the weakness in broadcast’s summer offerings and rushing to fill the void. Successful summer launches for cable programming helped build cable into the formidable competitor for broadcast that it is today. With more cable networks offering original programming, broadcasters are wise to recognize that they can no longer afford to write off the hot weather months, effectively inviting viewers to spend the summer looking elsewhere for better programming.
Given the competition for eyeballs on an ever-expanding TV dial, year-round programming is a matter of self-preservation for both the broadcast nets and cable programmers. No one can afford to take the summer off. Early signs for summer 2003 indicate that the broadcasters have woken up to the new reality of the TV marketplace and have taken steps in the right direction. TelevisionWeek applauds their efforts and hopes to see the trend continue.