NEW YORK A quirky ABC drama about a pie shop owner who helps a detective solve crimes by bringing dead victims back to life is poised to be this fall's surprise hit, according to Brandintel, an online consumer-buzz measurement service busily tracking the broadcast networks' prime-time lineups.
Brandintel, a unit of Brandimensions that monitors chatter on message boards, last year accurately predicted NBC's Heroes and ABC's Ugly Betty would be big successes, even as media agencies gave them a thumbs-down. For this fall, it reports that Pushing Daisies, panned by most agencies as a potential early cancellation, is the most anticipated new show going into the 2007-08 season.
Among 22 scripted shows set to premiere later this month, Brandintel puts a total of five ABC shows in the top 10. Besides Pushing Daisies, they were the dramas Private Practice (ranked No. 2), Dirty Sexy Money (No. 5) and Big Shots (No. 7), along with the sitcom Samantha Who? (No. 10).
NBC scored three shows in the top 10: dramas Bionic Woman (No. 3), Chuck (No. 4) and Journeyman (No. 9). Other anticipated debuts include Fox sitcom Back to You (No. 6) and CBS drama Cane (No. 8).
In an unusual twist, ABC not only has the two most anticipated shows, but also the two judged most likely to fail—sitcoms Carpoolers and, at the very bottom, Cavemen, based on characters from the popular Geico ads. "Despite generating high volumes of discussion, the novelty behind Cavemen has worn off with viewers," read a Brandintel report.
Pushing Daisies is generating an 8.8 percent share of all online discussions about new shows, placing third behind Private Practice (9.4 percent) and Bionic Woman (18.2 percent). But it has the most positive Sentiment Score (4.3 out of a possible 5), which indicates positive or negative feelings about the show and signals a viewer's intent to watch.
Skeptics of online buzz measurement conclude most series earning positive chatter are "high concept" shows that target younger, more tech-savvy audiences, skewing the results.
"Most traditional procedurals are not going to make the top 10 list," said one network programming executive who declined to speak for attribution. "You tend to find more sci-fi, fantasy and off-beat shows on the intent-to-view list. But that doesn't necessarily translate into solid ratings."
Michael Coristine, an analyst for Brandintel, disagreed, pointing out that top 10 shows like Back to You, Cane and Journeyman all skew older. He added that discussions are not being driven by tech-savvy viewers, and shows including Pushing Daisies and Bionic Woman are grabbing the interest of older viewers.
"The Internet does get a higher concentration of users under 49, but we are always able to get enough of a relevant sample over 50," Coristine said.
Steve McPherson, ABC Entertainment president, said while he is heartened by the study, he believes "buzz will get viewers to initially watch. We then have to make sure the shows are consistently good so that viewers keep coming back each week."