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TLC Analysis - November 2009



For nearly a year, TLC has endeavored to grab a schedule that had taken a decidedly feminine, almost 1990s daytime turn, and push it back toward a primetime sensibility that, while skewing female, tried to find men, too. It appears to be working.

But stay tuned. They have relied very, very heavily on Jon & Kate Plus Eight - with many original episodes, tons of repeats and occasional specials. This franchise, which had occupiee enormous tracts of schedule real estate and which seriously juiced the network's ratings, faces an uncertain future. It virtually disappeared from the schedule in July and the absence hurt. In August, it was back, with 26 telecasts, and it helped.

Whether Jon & Kate remains a major force, August saw the very successful premier of POLICE WOMEN OF BROWARD COUNTY. Other familiar titles continue to hold their own. 18 KIDS AND COUNTING, LITTLE COUPLE, CAKE BOSS and MY FIRST HOME will be shows to watch. Whether baking a cake, examining a disease or looking at where we live, weaving family narratives into programs seems to be one of the factors in helping a show pop at TLC.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / November 2009 vs. November 2008  (% Change)

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

A rock solid month for TLC. Month-to-month the network was up HH 9%. Younger and older women were up 9% and 10%, respectively and men rose 14% and 17%, respectively.  And, compared to November 2008, TLC was up HH12%. A lot to be thankful for at TLC executives' Thanksgiving dinners.

Kate Goselin got a special chance to tell us what she's thankful for. On an interview couch conspicuously wider than the one she had shared with husband Jon, the newly single mom of eight sat down with NBC's Natalie Morales for an extended chat. It yielded an hour-long special that brought back, if only for a moment, the huge Goselin family numbers TLC reaped in the good old days, before the marriage dissolved and production on JON & KATE PLUS 8 was shuttered. It more than tripled the network's HH average for the month. But a primetime repeat two weeks later slid back to merely respectable, above average numbers.

Lest anyone had imagined November would be the month JON & KATE PLUS 8 would fall away from ratings significance - especially with this apparent bookend/summary interview special --  not quite yet. Thee episodes of the old series showed up in the month's top twenty telecasts, with some big numbers.

TLC's schedule appears increasingly to reflect the sensibilities and discipline of a somewhat new executive there who has a great track record for knowing how to use shows to viewers' and networks' advantages.  Days, even hours, are developing a predictability and logic that contrast with TLC's messy schedules earlier in the year.

At the moment, TLC has enough solid series titles that while one skein (CAKE BOSS: 24 telecasts) was leaned on very heavily in November, the load was otherwise spread fairly evenly. 18 KIDS AND COUNTING (10 telecasts) averaged exactly the same in HH's as CAKE BOSS. These series were slightly above network average.  LITTLE COUPLE was the only other series with double-digit telecasts, with 12, right at the network's HH average.

Little people, under several titles, were important in November. LITTLE PEOPLE BIG WORLD had 8 telecasts (8:00 and 8:30 on Mondays) and bested the network average by nearly 50%.

Disappointments in November would certainly be led by the premier of FLOWERS UNCUT, a series built around high society florist Jeff Leatham. Even on its best, opening night, this rose wilted, performing well below average in all categories. In its second week out, in the same Wednesday night slots, it found barely a third of the network's average HH. It did not reappear after that second week.

Another series premier, HAPPILY EVER FASTER, set at a Las Vegas wedding chapel, was well below average on its first Friday outing, but found enough additional viewers in the same 10:00 pm and 10:30 pm slots a week later, that we're eager to see what happens next. We'll look closely in December to see if and where this shows up and whether it continues to build a following.

Finally, the Thursday night testosterone fest - in November; two hours of AMERICAN CHOPPER followed by an hour of STREET CUSTOMS - crashed and burned. It was down HH  25%, was essentially flat with men, and off 47% and 42%, respectively, with younger and older women. Year-to-year Thursdays are up 11% HH, but that's with a 10% loss of younger women - TLC's golden geese. This weird island of maleness in a network sea of female-targeting series feels more and more like a counterintuitive brainstorm/corporate imperative (bold or flailing - you decide) left over from an earlier, formative era.  Stay tuned!


Strategic Opportunities:

New GM/President, Eileen O'Neill, is starting to make her mark on TLC.  She's hired Nancy Daniels as SVP, Production and Development in LA and will be rebuilding the Scheduling, Research and Marketing team in Silver Spring.

Like all Discovery networks, the bulk of the TLC schedule is not only original programming, it is independently produced original programming!  They do many co-pro deals with BBC and other large entities, but they still take pitches from indies all the time.  Starting point is the e-submission, but they will take meetings at markets, if approached properly by email ahead of time.

Very little acquired programming on the network, but it happens:  DAVID BLAINE  is a notable example (it plays every Quarter or so), and they buy re-tooled network news programs all the time (as in DATELINE:  REAL LIFE MYSTERIES and the returning 48 HOURS).  Don't discount their use of off-Discovery Health programs such as DR. G and JON & KATE + 8 ... so keep this "two-fer" in mind if you're a producer.  It's even more important for the company as a whole ... they want programming that can play across more than one network.


Eileen O'Neill takes over and will inevitably bring the scheduling/strategy function back to Silver Spring.  Look for big changes in staffing and the direction that development takes.  This should be a big opportunity to cultivate new producers and ideas in rebuilding TLC.

Female is where they are and where they're going.  Most of the listings on our In Development page attest to that.  Scheduling is getting more consistent.  Edging toward overuse of JON & KATE and LITTLE PEOPLE, but it's confined to Monday and Wednesday.  But when they both are all the Top 20 telecasts of the month, ya gotta watch out.

What to pitch?  Still not sure. As one of our CABLEready clients says, "I'm pitching everyone everything these days!"

Well, sometimes, it's true:  Ya Never Know.  MISS AMERICA is sure an example of that.  But still, those kinds of moves are bold, but few and far between.  It's the regular series that still carry the day ... whether you're TLC or CBS.

TLC is doing three key things:  1) upping development;  2) aiming straight at the women demo (with the exception of TURBO Thursday, but we bet that'll ride off into the sunset soon enough) and 3), more consistent scheduling.   It will take all three, plus a sizable dose of off-air advertising and PR to make it all work together ... but that's pretty much how you'd have to do it anyway ... and TLC knows that.

It's the new development and Fall 2008 programs that give you the best sense of their direction...reality, and celebrity driven at that.  J-Lo, Kelly and Mark were the stars at the Upfront last month.  Design is still in there, and they claim they want more of the extreme family thing, but we'd guess the celebs are a key factor (that's Hollywood talkin").  Crime?  It still works, but other than the current DATELINE and 48 HOURS, we don't see anything new for the future.