A Visit to the Set of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow

Buyers bet on new fantasy/sci-fi/cop show

In the weeks leading up to the launch, the buzz on Sleepy is rivaled only by that for ABC’s much anticipated superhero-bureaucracy strip, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. According to NewMediaMetrics’ annual “LEAP TV” study, Sleepy has an 83 percent chance of being renewed, making it tops among all freshmen dramas. NMM CEO and co-founder Gary Reisman says women are responding more favorably to Sleepy than any other new show—so much so that the series is outpacing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the hypothetical race for a second season by 10 percentage points.

Other preseason surveys have Sleepy and S.H.I.E.L.D. running neck-and-neck with comedies like The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC) and The Crazy Ones (CBS). But while favorable reactions from the throngs at Comic-Con and the TCA Tour helped reinforce the notion that Sleepy has struck a nerve (the vagus, presumably), no one involved in the production of the program seems to have a handle on why this may be so.

“There’s something about this show—it seems to, like, have come around at just the right time. And you just don’t know why people are responding to it the way they are,” says Ken Olin, who serves as an executive producer on Sleepy alongside genre heavyweights Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Alias, Fringe, the 2009 Star Trek reboot) and Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard, the Underworld film series). “If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a reaction to the combination of the more fantastic elements of the story with the emotional underpinnings and character development.”

Media buyers and their clients have been eager to set up shop in Sleepy’s Monday night time slot, as automotive brands, movie studios, electronics/gadgets purveyors and the telcos are investing heavily in the show. TV buyers say Fox is charging an average unit rate of around $189,250 per 30-second spot, although time in the premiere commanded a premium—as much as $275,000 a pop.

“There’s an awful lot of stuff on Monday night that gets big reach numbers. But as far as the demos go, Sleepy Hollow looks like it could turn out to be a real smart buy for us,” said one national TV buyer. “Head-to-head, it goes up against a very old show in Dancing With the Stars, a very female-skewing Voice and two CBS comedies. If you’re trying to reach younger guys on Monday nights and don’t want to spend football money, this show may be your best bet.”

[Check out  behind-the-scenes photos from Sleepy Hollow]

Man Out of Time
Because the past is constantly having its way with the village of Sleepy Hollow—as writer Jose Molina puts it, the dozy river town is a vortex between worlds (“We call it the Epicenter … because obviously Joss Whedon would come after us if it were a Hellmouth,” he jokes)—time is perhaps a more fluid concept here than in most other broadcast dramas. It’s a nifty irony, then, that time-shifting will almost certainly play a crucial role in determining whether Sleepy succeeds or fails.

“As much as I’d like as many people as possible to watch Fox day-and-date, the reality is that a lot of people just are not watching that way,” Reilly says. “That trend’s not going to reverse itself. As long as we can count them and measure them and monetize them, that’s OK with me.”

Fox’s midseason thriller, The Following, was the top-rated new series of 2012-13, averaging a 2.6 rating in the 18-49 demo in Sleepy’s Monday night slot, per Nielsen’s live-plus-same-day data. But when seven days of DVR playback were brought to bear on The Following’s performance, the demo shot up 65 percent to a 4.3. The show’s reach also blossomed, as time-shifted deliveries tacked on another 3.91 million total viewers to The Following’s season average (7.96 million).

Given the nature of the show (sci-fi is the most DVR’d genre), Sleepy is likely to deliver a good number of viewers beyond the three days guaranteed by the C3 currency. Here’s where the math gets a little tricky. Because the live-plus-same-day numbers are statistically consistent with C3 data, it would appear that all the additional deliveries made possible by time-shifting do not compensate for the commercial avoidance that is so rampant in playback. In other words, while millions of people are catching up on their favorite TV shows with the aid of a DVR (or VOD, online streaming, Netflix, etc.), most of them, when given the opportunity, are zipping through the ads. And, naturally, no marketer is going to want to pony up for a viewer who isn’t watching the ads.

For his part, Reilly says that the currency issue plays into his determination to push back at a system he’s inherited but is no longer relevant in this everything-on-demand era. “Ask an honest media buyer and he’ll say that C3 is just a negotiation,” Reilly contends, adding that he believes the C7 stream and its additional four days of baked-in playback will be adopted as the currency before the 2014-15 upfront swings into action.

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