MyNetworkTV Hopes 'The Walking Dead' Lures Other Drama Sellers

AMC’s smash hit The Walking Dead makes its broadcast debut on MyNetworkTV Wednesday (Oct. 1), and the programming service’s programmers are as excited about the acquisition as a zombie who's got some fresh brains to snack on.

“In adults 18-49, The Walking Dead is the most-watched drama in all of television. It’s a big show and a big exciting get for MyNetworkTV,” says Paul Franklin, executive VP and general manager, broadcast sales, for Twentieth Television.  The show averaged more than 10 million viewers aged 18-49 for its season 4 finale on April 1.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to get the number-one program on television before anyone else can get it, you have to do it,” says Franklin. “I think it’s a great fit and a really good opportunity. It’s opened the doors for other content providers to look at MyNetworkTV differently.”

MyNetworkTV will double-run The Walking Dead on Wednesdays from 8 to 10 pm ET/PT, starting from the series’ beginning. It’s especially good timing with season five of The Walking Dead premiering on AMC on Sunday, Oct. 12.

MyNetworkTV affiliates have been promoting the show since July, says Franklin, with five separate promo packages: Corridor, Epic, Signs, Journey and Countdown, leading into the Oct. 1 premiere. And last Sunday (Sept. 28), a promo ran during Fox’s NFL match between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears in some markets.

“While we’ve run some very popular brands with which people are familiar, whether it be Law & Order, Bones or House, to get an opportunity to have something like The Walking Dead, which is as immediate as any show can be right now, is really exciting. It’s the first opportunity like that that we have had,” says Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the Fox Television Stations.

Although The Walking Dead’s ratings are gargantuan — with nearly 16 million total viewers tuning into the season 4 finale — it’s unclear whether they will follow the show to MyNetworkTV. In general, serialized dramas don’t repeat well unless viewers can binge-watch them — hence their expensive parade to Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (paid subscribers can read more about that trend in B&C’s cover story this week). All four seasons of The Walking Dead, which is produced by AMC, are available on Netflix.

Currently, the highest-rated shows that MyNetwork has on the air are NBCUniversal’s two Law & Orders: Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent, and that’s not surprising. Crime procedurals have been building cable networks — such as Law & Order on TNT and NCIS on USA — for years now. But that doesn’t worry Cicha.

The Walking Dead is serialized but it’s not a soap opera and it has a lot of great male viewership,” he says.

It’s a change of pace for MyNetworkTV, which is celebrating its ninth year on the air. The programming service was created in 2006, when The WB and UPN merged, leaving many Fox-owned stations without a network. In its first year, MyNetworkTV tried to make a go of American versions of telenovelas, primetime soap operas. That experiment quickly fizzled, however, and the service moved instead to acquiring off-network and off-cable dramas, such as the above mentioned Law & Orders, as well as shows such as Monk, Burn Notice and White Collar, all of which aired first on USA.

MyNetworkTV is adding another procedural to its primetime schedule this year, with Warner Bros.’ The Mentalist airing on Thursday nights. Twentieth’s Bones, which had been airing on Thursdays, will move to Fridays, while Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: CI will air on Mondays and Tuesdays. House and Monk drop off the schedule this year.

Expect MyNetworkTV to continue to seek out high-profile dramas.

“We want to bring the biggest, most high-profile brands to MyNet that we can,” says Cicha. “The fact that they are all hour-long dramas just means they fit into what we are doing. Since we play them in two-hour blocks, they are easy to promote from night-to-night.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.