Cable Nets Beat Broadcasters to the Punch for Fall Series Premieres

The 2018-19 broadcast TV season officially launches next week as ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the CW begin rolling out shiny, new scripted shows as well as new episodes of returning hit series.

In years past, cable networks looking to launch new original programming avoided the months of September and October like the plague for fear that their shows would drown amid the high level of marketing and promotional noise generated by the broadcast networks.

This year however, shows like FX’s Mayans M.C., a sequel to the network's popular Sons Of Anarchy series; USA Network’s The Purge, a takeoff on the popular movie franchise of the same name; and Lifetime’s social media/romance thriller You have all debuted after Labor Day, weeks before the broadcasters could get high-profile new shows like The Conners, The Cool Kids, F. B. I., Magnum P.I., Manifest, A Million Little Things and Murphy Brown in front of viewers.

“Back in the day cable used to make a name for itself in the summer when the broadcast networks weren’t doing much (original programming), and they gained alot of traction,” said Marc Berman, editor of TV industry website Programming Insider. “The way the industry works now its a 12-month business … you can no longer sit and hold [new content] back because the broadcast networks traditionally put most of their new shows out in September.”

So far, viewers haven’t waited for the new broadcast shows to get a taste of new fall programming:

--Mayans M.C. drew 4.6 million viewers on a Nielsen live +3 basis for its Sept. 4 premiere, a 64% increase over the 2008 premiere of its predecessor Sons Of Anarchy. The series also drew the most viewers in key Adult 25-54, Adult 18-49 and adult 18-34 demos than any other new cable series premiere this year, according to FX.

--BET’s The Bobby Brown Story miniseries drew a combined 4.6 million viewers across its Sept. 4-5 premiere telecasts, the most viewers the network has drawn for a scripted program since the January 2017 The New Edition Story mini-series.

--The Purge scared up more than 1.3 million viewers for its Sept. 4 premiere, making it one of the network’s highest show premieres of the year.

Lifetime executive vice president of movies, limited series and acquisitions Tanya Lopez says the September launch of You offered an opportunity to grab and hopefully lock in viewers before the new broadcast series shows premiered. 

You's’ Sept. 9 premiere drew 4.4 million viewers on a Nielsen Live +3 ratings basis, and has reached more than 9.2 million total viewers across all telecasts, according to the network.

“This gives Lifetime several weeks to establish a loyal audience for You as the series only continues to get better and more addictive as the season progresses,” Lopez said. “We’re in a sweet spot of catching audiences who are returning from their summer vacations, settling back into their lives and watching TV. It’s a fantastic opportunity to catch these viewers before the fall promotion hits full steam.”

With several cable and streaming services set to launch high-profile scripted series over the next few weeks -- including FX's Mr. Inbetween, Crackle's Us & Them, Hulu's Into The Dark, and Amazon's The Romanoffs, its abundantly clear that the fall months are no longer the exclusive purview of the broadcast networks to launch new scripted content.   

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.