If the twittering classes have any say in the matter, this fall is going to be a blockbuster for ABC and the CW. And while autumn may not alleviate the suffering at NBC, the Peacock appears to have the biggest new scripted series on its hands in the midseason entry, Smash.
According to a new survey of social media behavior from Networked Insights, ABC’s slate of fall dramas is stirring up the most positive buzz on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites.
Seven of the eight new dramas set to debut on ABC during the 2011-12 season have elicited positive feedback on various online fora, including the period piece Pan Am, the spun-sugar Charlie’s Angels reboot, and Once Upon a Time, a curious hybrid of fairy tale and procedural.
Of the new ABC dramas, Once Upon a Time has earned the most praise (23 percent). When gauged by the number of impressions (a catchall for how many times each show has been mentioned in the social media sphere), the sudsy Good Christian Belles wins out, with 674,143. At least some of that tally can be chalked up to the furor over the show’s original, ill-advised title, Good Christian Bitches.
Only the midseason Ashley Judd/Sean Bean thriller Missing failed to register, largely because ABC has yet to release an official trailer for the show. The 10-episode arc is currently being filmed in Prague.
If ABC’s drama slate looks solid, its comedy offerings are a bit of a wash. First, the good news: Apartment 23—formerly known as Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23 (oh, ABC!)—has one of the highest sentiment scores (26 percent), and the pilot is genuinely funny. Buyers attending ABC’s May upfront presentation seemed particularly tickled to see former Dawson’s Creek fivehead—er, heartthrob—James Van Der Beek take the piss out of himself in what amounts to a season-long cameo. But after that, it’s all downhill.
Boasting the single worst reception of any new series was the clunky Bosom Buddies rehash Work It. One of nine shows to receive negative ratings from prospective viewers, the cross-dressing comedy’s sentiment score was -15 percent.
As one may well imagine, the CW’s young audience can be relied upon to generate a good deal of online chatter. Sarah Michelle Gellar makes her return to network TV in Ringer, a dark mystery that has Buffy fans champing at the bit. Some 1.66 million impressions have cropped up around the new show, which has earned the second-highest sentiment rating, at 28 percent.
Kevin Williamson’s witchy drama The Secret Circle also brewed up enviable numbers; according to Networked Insights, the show notched a 26 percent sentiment rating and 728,412 impressions. Rachel Bilson may not be entirely believable as a newly minted doctor who moves from New York to the sticks, but Hart of Dixie is still trending fairly well, tying for 12th place with an 11 percent sentiment rating.
At Fox, Simon Cowell’s upcoming competition series The X Factor is far and away the most discussed new show on the docket, generating 8.22 million impressions. (By way of comparison, the No. 2 show, NBC’s Smash, has been the topic of 2.2 million online conversations.)
While the bloviating Brit has people talking, The X Factor finished in the middle of the pack on the sentiment front (9 percent). But buyers love the show and other than the NFL, Factor was one of the few must-buys in the 2011-12 upfront.
Not that Networked Insights is necessarily trying to assess how each show will fare in the fall. “Tracking this online data for our agency clients allows us to provide unique insights into the people who watch TV,” said Networked Insights CEO Dan Neely. “Fans of Glee may not necessarily go to [Fox’s] Glee.com site. They go to other places, as we can see from tracking the data . . . and in making buys on these digital properties, marketers can reach that Glee audience without having to pay a broadcast CPM.”
Last season, a 30-second spot on Glee cost approximately $275,000.
“It’s about making your TV dollars work harder by using digital media as a natural extension of TV,” Neely said. “Knowing where the viewer spends his or her time online keeps you competitive. If you can’t get the inventory you want [on linear TV], you can still reach that target audience in other places. It’s a way to get a TV audience without buying TV.”
Other trending Fox series are the Zooey Deschanel vehicle New Girl, the Monday night dino drama Terra Nova, and JJ Abrams’ Alcatraz.
Curiously, while NBC holds the bragging rights for the most anticipated drama (Awake topped all new series with a 38 percent sentiment rating) and comedy (Up All Night, 27 percent), the remainder of its fall lineup appears littered with underachievers. Comedienne Whitney Cummings is a polarizing personality—type “Whitney Cummings is” into Google’s search field and the first prompts to appear are “. . . not funny,” “. . . hot” and “. . . is terrible”—and her self-titled sitcom has earned low marks from the vox populi. (Cummings’ standup act is quite funny; unfortunately, the show is blighted by a particularly irritating laugh track.)
Playboy Club is the subject of much speculation, as many commentators feel it’s a better fit for cable. The pilot is undergoing a good deal of overhauling, as NBC is reshooting nearly a third of the footage in order to speed the action.
The period piece is also taking its lumps from the ever-vigilant Parents Television Council, which, despite not having screened the pilot, has denounced the show for being in violation of broadcast decency laws. (The series opener is actually rather tame; in keeping with the uniforms worn by the ‘60s-era Playboy Bunnies, there’s no more skin on display than what you’d find in a typical episode of Baywatch.)
Still, NBC has an ace up its sleeve in Smash, the Broadway Baby musical that seems destined to make Katharine McPhee a major TV star. NBC programming chief Bob Greenblatt brought Smash with him from Showtime, and with its high sentiment (22 percent) and impressions (2.2 million), the series is perhaps the most anticipated new scripted effort of the coming season.
Lastly, while CBS is only prepping a handful of new series, the network boasts the third most-hailed comedy in 2 Broke Girls and the No. 8 drama (Person of Interest). CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler told media buyers 2 Broke Girls was the highest-testing pilot the network had ever seen.
Networked Insights counts a number of major media agencies among its subscribers, and Starcom MediaVest is a partner. Along with helping clients discover online alternatives to TV buys, the company’s predictive analytics have helped marketers save a significant chunk of change on up-and-coming series.
For example, two years ago, Networked Insights studied the online chatter surrounding the new ABC comedy Modern Family. By urging sponsors to buy the show in the 2009-10 upfront, the company saved early birds around $155,000 per 30-second spot. (Modern Family went to market at $65,000 a spot, a price that would soar to $220,000 as the show became the No. 1 comedy on TV.)
“TV works, but we need to stop using blunt instruments to buy TV,” Neely said. “We have these precision tools at our disposal . . . It’s unreasonable to keep doing things the way we always have.”