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Fall TV Premiere Failure Rates Rival Those of DRTV Projects

15 Jul, 2009 By: Steven Chester Response This Week

If you have been watching any summer television, you have undoubtedly seen teaser promos for new shows set to air in upcoming fall TV season. During the many reality shows and repeat episodes airing right now, the networks want to grab your attention early and often to remind you that new scripted programming will be coming your way once September rolls around.

The fall season is the heart of the television year. Networks bring back their heaviest hitters and bring some new shows into the fold, hoping they will be future ratings dynamos. Most of these new shows will fail, and many of them will never even get to air their original full order of episodes. For every winner, there are three or four — or even more — losers.

The last “normal” fall season was back in 2007. That year saw 27 new shows on broadcast. Across the various networks, new cop shows, comedies, serials and family shows were pranced out on the stage to be judged by the American public. Some were winners; some were losers, but only a few were strong enough to stay on the airwaves. Out of the 27 new series, only nine made it to season two, and only four are set to come back for 2009, a paltry 15 percent.

Last year was not exactly a banner year for broadcast, either. Earlier in 2008, the Screen Writer’s Guild went on strike, making it impossible for new pilots to be written. After the strike ended, networks and studios rushed to get shows put together. This lack of time and rushed effort resulted in only 14 new programs airing in the fall. Many of these were re-hashes of old shows like Knight Rider and Bionic Woman, while others were obviously rushed to air.

Several of these shows did not make it to a third episode. Do Not Disturb on FOX made it to three before it was banished, and The Ex List on CBS aired exactly one episode before it was relegated to a filler time slot. In the end, only five of the 14 shows continue to air. That 35% success rate may sound high, but since the season was a bit on an anomaly, the true success rate will be determined this coming season.

Since fall is the big season for broadcast television, it forces cable networks to air their original programming at other times of the year. The biggest shows on cable typically have spring or summer premieres. The Closer premiered in June 2005, and has been one of the biggest success stories in television during the past four years. Mad Men has been the most critically acclaimed show on cable during the past two years. It premiered in July 2007.

Cable networks know if they are going to succeed, these shows need to premiere when broadcast television is off-season. These same cable networks saw a little bit of an opportunity in 2008 when network television was lacking in new shows. Bravo, FX, History, SyFy, TNT, USA and WE all took advantage of this, premiering at least one new show each in September 2008.

About half of the new cable shows from 2008 actually paid off on the gamble. Raising the Bar on TNT took in the single largest audience ever for a cable premiere on Sept. 1, 2008. The show is now in the middle of its second season. Sons of Anarchy premiered two days later on FX. The show quickly gathered a following and became its second most successful show after Rescue Me. The show is due for a second season, and FX is gambling again by setting its season premiere for September.

There are 42 new shows set to premiere this fall on broadcast television. Every genre possible is represented — including science fiction, cartoons, politics and reality. ABC alone has more new shows (16) than all of broadcast offered in 2008. Only time will tell how many of these shows are successes or failures.

Some are bound to be on the fall 2010 lineup, while others are destined to not even make it to October. As the past shows, if only 14 of these shows get renewed for a second season, it would be a great victory for television.

Steven Chester is a media analyst at Lockard & Wechsler Direct in Irvington, N.Y. He can be reached at

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