NYC TV Week: Execs' Keys to Series Success

The realities of scripted TV show pitching, evaluating and promoting were shared with The Content Show attendees during a lively opening panel that followed a keynote conversation with Donny Deutsch Wednesday.

Pearlena Igbokwe (pictured, right), executive vice president of drama development for NBC Entertainment, had a popularly-tweeted comment when she estimated she heard 400 show pitches from July to October yearly. Of those, perhaps 50 scripts are ordered into development, eight shows gets pilot orders and four get series orders. “It’s quite a lottery,” she said.

Igbokwe, a former Showtime content executive, said broadcast networks are under competitive pressure to produce shows that don’t feel like traditional network fare, and don’t have the luxury some streamed series seem to have of audiences watching four or five episodes before deciding they like a show. NBC needs “eyepopping” first, second and third episodes “because every week you need to earn the viewer’s attention.”

Kim Rosenblum, EVP of digital, creative and marketing at Viacom-owned TV Land, said that network has evolved the way it approaches and markets original series from when Hot In Cleveland launched in 2010 and Younger debuted in 2015. TV Land is more willing now to make deals that have somewhat less favorable economics for the network in the first season -- provided the first season sets the stage for continued success in later seasons, she said.

Network marketers also must constantly go through social media sites looking for comments about a show and communicate with those fans and create a fear of missing out that will keep drawing in new viewers, Rosenblum said. “We go and read every comment on every social platform and find where the fans are and then just start to talk to them directly to try to snowball it, to try to get those people to talk about it, to bring up the next week and the next week,” she said. 

Shows also hope their stars will exploit social followings to help bring in viewers, panelists (questioned by Leftfield Entertainment CEO Brent Montgomery) said. Younger’s Hilary Duff, for example, can help by promoting the show, but then the network has to work and build on those new leads, not rely on Duff to do all the marketing, Rosenblum said.

Lisa Honig, senior EVP, program distribution, The Americas, for FremantleMedia (pictured, left), agreed that shows need to have buzz as part of the package and get talent to commit to help marketing. Chris Donahue, president of Paulist Productions, said original ideas are still paramount: his studio successfully pitched a series about cryogenics and what happens when frozen people come back to life.

Igbokwe stressed that the real key to successful scripted shows is great storytelling.

The Content Show continues today and tomorrow at The Park Central Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.