Strategic Tweak Elevates TV Land

Dec 5, 2005  •  Post A Comment

For nearly a decade TV Land’s prime-time lineup has been dominated by classic sitcoms such as “The Munsters,” “Green Acres” and “Leave It to Beaver.” The shows were reliable performers, had broad appeal and were often very white. As in Caucasian.

In the past year, however, the channel’s lineup has become more reflective of contemporary American society. Eddie Munster was trumped by J.J. Walker. The Beav was upstaged by Sanford. And Sam Drucker has been chased off by reruns of, well, Rerun.

The result has been not only a more diverse lineup but also a significant increase in ratings.

With “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son” and “What’s Happening” leading the way in November, TV Land had the best month in its nine-year history, according to Nielsen Media Research. The record-setting month was preceded by a record-setting third quarter in which the channel became one of the top 20 cable networks in prime time among total viewers, averaging more than 1 million viewers.

The quarter included a “Good Times” weekend marathon, during which TV Land became the top cable network for African American viewers.

More African American-led fare is on its way. TV Land will produce a three-hour Black History Month special to run in February. Recently TV Land announced it has ordered a reality show pilot starring Mr. T, and more acquisitions of African American-led shows are being considered.

“Clearly their gain is being driven largely by these urban sitcoms from the 1970s and ’80s,” said Tim Brooks, Lifetime’s head of research and television historian. “It’s an interesting tack for them because BET has been criticized as being a very narrow representation of African Americans, whereas Nick at Nite has never really plunged into these shows. So it’s a savvy move on their part to jump into African American adult programming. It makes them the UPN of cable networks.”

The only problem is TV Land doesn’t necessarily want to be the UPN of cable networks.

According to TV Land President Larry Jones, the network is not trying to target African Americans, and shows like “Good Times” were selected because of their broad popularity. Viacom launched TV Land in 1996 as a spinoff of Nick at Nite. The network is now in 85 million homes.

Noting that black programming is not entirely new to the channel, Mr. Jones said “Sanford” has been televised on TV Land off and on for years, and the network has run “The Jeffersons” and “The Flip Wilson Show” in years past.

“We’re not targeting African American audiences per se,” Mr. Jones said. “Our audience appeal is adults 25 to 54, so we look for the hits that will continue to deliver that audience. It’s really more about timing.”

Shari Anne Brill, VP and director of programming of Carat North America, said she also suspects timing may be a factor.

“It’s amazing that’s what’s going to TV Land is shows from the ’70s,” she said. “Maybe the reason it’s taken hold is that there are so many baby boomers, and to some degree Gen X’ers.”

Indeed, the fourth and fifth most popular programs on the network are also 1970s titles: “Three’s Company” and “All in the Family.” But as far as Gen X’ers, the network is still lacking; its median age is 52.

TV Land’s African American viewership has always been significant. Last year African American viewers accounted for 25 percent of the network’s audience, according to Nielsen. Year to date, that figure is up to 27 percent.

The success this November in part might indicate that TV Land’s programming diversity is catching up with the audience it has had all along.

“We want to be reflective of our audience in general,” Mr. Jones said. “We have a little bit of a constraint as our acquisitions are based on television history.”