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Shorter-Arc Serialized Dramas Could Be a Boon to Advertisers

When Fox premieres its drama The Following, starring
Kevin Bacon, on Monday nights next spring, the series will run for 13
consecutive weeks with first-run episodes, airing in a shortened season arc.

Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly is a big fan of
shorter seasons for serialized drama series, but says the studios have not been
that eager to do 13 weeks or less in season arcs. From the studio's
perspective, serialized dramas don't do as well in syndication, so they want to
sell as many episodes of a series as they can for broadcast airing;
if a series works, they want to get that entire 22- or 24-episode order each

But Reilly believes 22 episodes, and repeats in
between, has become too good a recipe for viewer fatigue: episodes are skipped
and ratings suffer. Plus, the broadcast landscape is filled with examples of
serialized drama series that start off with sizable audiences and wind up being
cancelled because, along the way, the networks have to mix in those repeats that
interrupt the flow and turn viewers -- and sets -- off. Putting a serialized drama
on hiatus, while waiting for the back order of episodes to be completed, can
and has also doomed serialized dramas.

So, Reilly is hoping to start out by airing shorter-arc
serialized dramas in the spring and running them straight through with fresh
episodes. Fox did just that this spring with Touch, which performed relatively well,
averaging 8 million viewers and a 2.3 18-49 rating.

"The days of the 'one size fits all' model in broadcast
television are over," Reilly says. "With series more procedural like House
or Bones, you can do the
22 episodes and mix in repeats, but it is no longer working with
serialized dramas."

It's hard for Fox to follow that shorter-arc strategy in the
fall or fourth quarter, however: The network's many postseason Major League
Baseball telecasts in October force preemptions on most nights of the week. So,
it's easier for the network to start in March.

Spring, he says, is also a good time to do shorter arcs
of first-run series because there is more daylight and people get home
later to watch TV, whereas they aren't going to rush home to watch repeats.
Viewers also might be more apt to watch a serialized drama they are into live instead
of later, on the DVR.

"This can be an antidote for the light TV-watching that
occurred this season in the spring," Reilly says.

But Reilly adds that it's up to the studios to
cooperate. In the case of Touch, 20th Century Fox was the studio. For The
, it is Warner Bros., and Reilly was pleased that everyone was on
the same page.

"I finally found a big studio that agreed to [produce a
shorter-arc serialized drama]," he says. "I'd like to [go to] series
with six-, eight- or 10-episode arcs, but that is clearly down the road."

If The Following succeeds in drawing a sizable
audience during its 13-week run, it could be a ratings boon to advertisers as
well. So, all marketers should be eyeing this series come spring. If the
concept proves successful, studio execs will be hearing about it.