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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Cable tows the US networks

By Ed Waller 20-05-2013

Some of the trends emerging during Upfronts week may be the US networks’ response to domestic issues, but they’re presenting international buyers at the LA Screenings with some challenges of their own.

The major swing towards comedy, for example, is a reaction to the dismal performance of last season’s freshman laffers, with only Fox’s The Mindy Project and ABC’s The Neighbors renewed. The 19 new comedies heading into next season also reflect how studios are looking to have more chances of success in domestic syndication, where comedy traditionally does better than drama, particularly all the serialised stuff that’s coming.

Back in the Game

Back in the Game

But are comedies about baseball and life in the US army, for instance, really going to travel overseas? Never mind the fact that comedies in general don’t sell too well internationally, the subject matter of some of them immediately gives them even more of a disadvantage on the international market.

Buyers in LA are also having to grapple with the conseqences of the US networks’ moves towards breaking up the traditional season into two halves, with bridging series in between. Some buyers see this as a knee-jerk reaction to the encroachments of cable and sense panic among the US networks.

“There’s a great deal of fear running around the place,” says John Ranelagh, head of acquisitions at Norway’s TV2.

Does this overhaul of the traditional US season structure mean overseas buyers will have to follow that transmission pattern back home? The appeal of US series to some buyers is that they provide season-long scheduling solutions, not short-term fixes with regular hiatuses that need filling.

Also, with many new but shorter series coming to US television, this means much higher marketing costs for both the US channels and their partners around the world. With so much clutter out there to cut through, this is a major issue.

US networks seem to be embracing not just the scheduling patterns of cable but also the style of storytelling – perhaps they are envious of cable’s Emmy pile?

Also, the fact that the procedural format has been so exhausted in recent years means a major move towards serialised storytelling. But does middle America want to watch cable-style content on broadcast television?

And are we heading for another serialised drama overkill similar to the one that followed the success of Lost all those years ago? That ended when viewers couldn’t handle too many season-long story arcs and complex storylines, and many series were simply axed mid-run. Is history repeating itself, buyers in LA will be wondering.

today's correspondent

Ed Waller Editorial Director C21Media

Ed Waller is a media journalist working out of London, England.

He is editorial director for C21 Media, which publishes the leading international TV trade website and print magazines Channel 21 International and C21 Kids. He also regularly contributes to UK national newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent and The Sunday Times.

Ed previously worked at trade magazines Televisual Magazine and Asia-Pacific Satellite.