Cable Won’t Take Memorial Day Off

Several cable networks are hoping to generate some ratings sizzle this Memorial Day with new original movies, miniseries and scripted fare set to debut over the holiday weekend.

The conventional wisdom that viewers won’t watch television in big numbers over such a three-day weekend was debunked last Memorial Day with the record-setting performance of History’s miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. A&E, Lifetime, VH1, INSP and others hope their respective projects will capture some of that audience next Monday (May 27).

“I think a lot of the fear [from networks] is that people are away, outside or generally not home [on Memorial Day], but I think that by Monday night, most people are back from the holiday,” Lifetime executive vice president of programming Rob Sharenow said. “By Monday, most people are home and back to their normal patterns of viewing.”


Over the years, the A+E Networks group (which includes Lifetime) has historically taken advantage of the lack of competition from cable or broadcast networks on Memorial Day — most networks tend to schedule marathons of their best shows or series repeats over long holiday weekends — to showcase big projects.

More than 13.1 million viewers tuned into last Memorial Day’s premiere of the three-part Hatfields & McCoys, the most-watched debut for a miniseries in cable history. The History program — whose co-stars, Kevin Costner and Tom Berenger, both earned Emmys — finished its three-consecutive- night run as the most-watched miniseries ever.

The year prior, History drew 3.8 million viewers for its Memorial Day 2011 docudrama Gettysburg.

In 2008, A&E Network generated 4.8 million viewers for the two-part sci-fi miniseries Andromeda Strain.

This year, A&E will launch the sophomore season of Western drama Longmire and long-running cop series The Glades on Memorial Day. It will have competition from sister service Lifetime, though, which will debut made-for-TV movie Ring of Fire that same night.

Ring of Fire, which stars Grammy Award winning singer Jewel as country-music legend June Carter Cash, is one of Lifetime’s highest-profile original films this year, according to Sharenow.

“As a company we’ve had incredible success on Memorial Day, and for us Ring of Fire is a natural fit — it’s an all-American subject matter with the story of June Cash,” Sharenow said. “If you have something big, people tend to come out for it.”

INSP is looking to draw Memorial Day viewers with Courage, New Hampshire, a miniseries set prior to the American Revolution. In a scheduling twist, all four episodes of the series — which depicts the lives of colonists in the 1770s — will run on Memorial Day, with repeats airing on consecutive nights beginning May 28, senior vice president of programming Doug Butts said.

INSP decided to air its first scripted series on Memorial Day after viewer research show little viewer drop-off on the holiday, compared to the prior Monday, Butts said. Still, he conceded in launching its first scripted series on a holiday, the network is taking a bit of a calculated chance.

“The [holiday] traveling usually takes place over the weekend … but we believe with school being on Tuesday and people getting ready to go back to work they’re usually home on Monday night watching television,” Butts said. “Some of this is definitely risk and a gut feeling, but I feel very strong about the content and I believe it will have appeal and the audience will get engaged.”

VH1 isn’t concerned about finding viewers on Memorial Day for the debut of its newest scripted series, Hit the Floor, about lives of a pro basketball team and its sexy cheerleaders, VH1 president Tom Calderone said.

The series will follow in the Memorial Day launch footsteps of the network’s first scripted series, Single Ladies, which debuted on the holiday in 2011 to nearly 2 million viewers.


“Mondays for the past couple of years has been a great destination for VH1, so we feel like we already have a running start,” Calderone said. “We also think the tone of Hit the Floor — it looks and feels like a hot, summerthemed show — will fit well with the holiday. We feel good about launching the show on Memorial Day.”

Calderone said he’s also not concerned about the increased competition Hit the Floor will face during the holiday that Single Ladies did not have to contend with just two years ago.

“We’re just happy that people are taking our lead on scripted on Memorial Day … that’s a compliment for us,” he said. “We’ve shown that the audience is still watching TV [on Memorial Day], so if you give them a show with a great storyline and great production, that’s really half the battle.”


With History’s Hatfields & McCoys setting ratings records last Memorial Day, more networks will bow new shows over the three-day weekend.

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.