Original series Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and Swamp People are among the most-watched unscripted efforts on basic cable, so much so that History in Q3 finished second in the cable race for adults 18-49. As such, its ad sales staff this year is on track to eclipse the $350 million mark, no thanks to a certain Irish bootlegger in The Kennedys.
The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart delights in his role as a twinkly-eyed, despairing Walter Cronkite for a generation that gets its news from its Twitter feed. Lead-out Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report embodies the shameless hucksterism of cable’s screaming heads, who have made a cottage industry out of presenting extreme views to an audience that doesn’t ask questions. Together, they’re the dream ticket for an election season that promises to offer the gravitas of a hot-dog eating contest.
No one’s likely to replicate its five-year winning streak in the cable ratings, but USA’s clear vision is an industry model. Its series are shot with USA’s “blue skies” filter—literally a guiding principle that colors its cop/doctor/spy/shrink dramas with an upbeat quirkiness. Homegrown series like Burn Notice and Royal Pains, and WWE Raw get a rise from viewers.
Think the civilization of Dante, Michelangelo, and Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra will reach its full fruition in a perma-tanned goomba sporting an Ed Hardy shirt? Relax. Jersey Shore is just a TV show—albeit one instrumental in saving MTV’s pancetta. In its fourth season, it averaged 7.3 million viewers, capping an unbelievable summer in which the network and its siblings earned nearly $745 million in ad sales revenue.
If the personalities who inhabit the Food Network aren’t to everyone’s taste—Paula Deen’s “recipe” for preparing English peas (open can, melt butter) reads like a parody of her folksy, cholesterol-spiking shtick–the channel has a read on how “real” Americans eat. (The foodies can sulk and saute their way on over to the Cooking Channel.) Advertisers bet big on Guy Fieri, et al.–last year Food took in $477 million in sponsor bucks.
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