It was a jarring moment for broadcast last year when, for the first time, not one major network entry was nominated for an outstanding drama series Emmy. But don’t expect them to go down without a fight. With broadcast trying to emulate the scary-good success of cable entries like AMC’s The Walking Dead, NBC fighting to maintain its momentum and everyone dealing with the effects of time-shifted viewing, this year is sure to bring some big programming swings. Here’s what to look for in 2013.
More Buzzy Dramas (Not Just on Cable)
Time-shifted viewing continually eroded broadcast overnight ratings in 2012, highlighting the importance of event programming, driven by the success of attention-grabbing cable dramas like The Walking Dead, FX’s American Horror Story and Showtime’s Homeland. And despite their risky content, the shows’ growing success over multiple seasons should encourage other networks to try things they haven’t before.
Fox will do that in January with The Following, a serial killer drama starring Kevin Bacon that is cable-like both in its content and its scheduling of 15 consecutive episodes. If the big swing works, expect other broadcasters to follow its lead.
Tackling 10 P.M.
While the last hour of primetime, 10-11 p.m. (ET), still sees the highest DVR playback, timeshifted viewing at 9 p.m. is just behind that, which means putting on programming that raises eyebrows is really the case anywhere on the schedule, says one broadcast exec.
But the competition from cable at 10 p.m. is fierce, when shows like FX’s Sons of Anarchy, A&E’s Duck Dynasty and History’s Pawn Stars draw sizeable audiences. And since 10 p.m. is a crucial time period for stations, encouraging live viewing at that hour is critical for leading into late news.
While event programming like The Voice and American Idol helps drive live viewing in the earlier hours, don’t expect to see those tentpoles move later to shore up ratings. Last fall broadcast launched promising newcomers at 10 p.m. like NBC’s Revolution and CBS’ Elementary by using strong lead-ins—a strategy they will look to repeat in 2013 with ABC’s Red Widow and NBC’s Deception.
Sustaining Momentum at NBC
It turns out one show is still all it takes to turn around a network, which had NBC brass breathing a collective sigh of relief after The Voice helped the network shoot from fourth place to first last fall. Its rivals are less convinced of a sustained comeback in 2013, however, when NBC’s year-over-year comps will include last winter’s cycle of The Voice.
The first few months of 2013 are likely to be tough for the Peacock without Sunday Night Football, The Voice or the season’s top new series, Revolution, which will take a risky four-month hiatus. And with the network already committing to another cycle of The Voice in fall 2013, there are continued fears that the exposure will wear out the franchise quicker. To combat that, NBC needs another hit this year, which it hopes it has with new comedy 1600 Penn, slated to air on Thursdays out of The Office.
Summer Flips the Script
While scripted summer series have traditionally been reserved for cable, broadcast will make a more concerted push into scripted for summer 2013, along with its usual reality fare, to test viewers’ appetites.
ABC will have stalwart Rookie Blue as well as Mistresses; CBS revived last season’s Unforgettable and ordered the Stephen King series Under the Dome; NBC still has Hannibal unscheduled; and The CW could acquire something scripted, as it did with The L.A. Complex last summer.
A New War for Late-Night
It’s no longer just Leno vs. Letterman when ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel gets a big promotion to 11:35 p.m. on Jan. 8. While Kimmel isn’t expected to rival the others in terms of ratings at the outset, ABC is making a long-term play for younger viewers; his show draws a higher concentration of adults 18-49 than either of the other hosts. As Kimmel said in a recent New York magazine interview, “In late-night, sleep is your enemy, much more than your competition,” meaning his earlier berth should only make him more popular.
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