We've been listing which new fall TV shows we think are worth watching, but the real question in the industry is: What are the media buyers looking forward to?
The TV season kicks off today. But in a fall lacking slam dunks, the buyer reaction is more muted than usual. "It doesn't feel like there's any one show or couple of shows that have really stood out this year on any of the networks," said Darcy Bowe, vp, media director at Starcom. "There's been good buzz about a lot of it, but I don't feel like there's been any show that's like, I have to be a part of this, I'm so excited about it."
The flip side is buyers haven't flagged any out-and-out bombs, either. "There's nothing that stands out where we said to clients, 'Don't do that, you're going to make a mistake,'" said John Muszynski, chief investment officer at Spark.
While buyers have curbed their enthusiasm, there are a few shows that have attracted interest. Buyers are optimistic about the long-term potential of NBC's drama Blindspot, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. "I think Blindspot is going to be great," said Melissa Shapiro, president of investment, Mediavest. "When I watch pilots, I don't look just at the pilot, I try to envision what episode three and four is going to be. And with Blindspot, she's got unlimited tattoos. You could CGI a new tattoo the following week because of something that happened in a social conversation on her pinky toe. And that's a whole new episode."
NBC's marketing for the show has also been on point. "NBC sees that as something powerful. They're promoting the hell out of it," said Muszynski. "When I saw that, my first thought was Bourne Identity, and lo and behold, that's what they're actually referring to it as in the promos."
Quantico, ABC's FBI drama, is good but faces a tough 10 p.m. Sunday time slot for ABC. "It's kind of hard right now with Fear the Walking Dead at 10"—and Walking Dead returning Oct. 11—"but Quantico I enjoyed a lot," said Shapiro. Added Muszynski, "I think that people will get pulled into Quantico just off the pilot. The pilot had a great twist, and I think they got into the suspense and mystery very quickly. I think people will continue to come back because they'll get pulled in early on."
Buyers are intrigued by the few shows with famous actors, who could lure audiences. "There's some star appeal when you think about John Stamos coming back to television in his comedy [Grandfathered], or ABC really trying to play up Don Johnson being back on television [in Blood and Oil]," said Bowe.
Added Shapiro, "I personally will watch Grandfathered and The Grinder just because of who's in them. I mean, Rob Lowe and John Stamos for a half hour each!"
Another buyer favorite includes Supergirl: "On CBS, I think they've got a lot of potential with Supergirl bringing in a different, younger audience," said Shapiro. And Code Black "was a very powerful pilot, and I could see it working over time," said Muszynski. "That is assuming they make it more ER and less Grey's Anatomy. What I mean by that is more about the medical stories and less about the drama and the romances and all of that garbage."
But because viewing habits have changed so much, it's harder for buyer to select those sure bets. "Gone are the days where you got this huge sampling of a couple of shows, you got several runaway hits and it was very exciting," said Bowe. "Now there's a lot of sampling and a lot of binging later. Now it's not always about that premiere week, but several weeks later, when someone goes, 'Oh, everyone's been talking about X, I've got to catch up.' And that just wasn't an option in the past, so we'll just see how that plays out."
Now, buyers focus on a pilot's long-term potential. "How it could manifest into future episodes. Does it completely jump the shark within the first two minutes of the program or figuring out, has the program reached exhaustion? As far as the success of programming is concerned, again, have I seen that before? Is that already on the air four different ways from Sunday and in three different languages? Is the time period not going to be successful enough that even within a three-day period if you're paying obviously C3, will the network protect it?" said Shapiro.
Taking the long-term view is important, so buyers can try to get in early when a show becomes a potential hit. "We look for shows that are going to work beyond one year. That are going to have some legs because, once the network gets a successful show, if you don't have many of those in your mix next year they're going to generally mirror the plan that you bought the year that that show was launched," said Muszynski. "So if last year you only bought one Empire [unit], this year Fox would have been trying to restrict you to one Empire or at least if you increased your dollar level, the same proportion of Empire units to the total that you had the year prior."
And the broader, the better. "I look for shows that are going to appeal to a broader audience and not just be real niche oriented. The broader the audience, the greater the sampling across different demographics and the more it works for multiple clients. So many of these shows might be really, really good for a sliver of the audience out there, but not for a broad enough audience to make it efficient enough and effective enough in our plans," said Muszynski.
As they hedge their bets on the new shows, buyers seem far more excited about Empire—which returns to the schedule after its gargantuan debut last January—than any new show this fall. "I miss Cookie so much. She is EVERYTHING, with capital letters!" said Shapiro, referring to Taraji P. Henson's larger-than-life Empire character.
"Now it feels more like, now we've got to be part of Empire, so as a returning show that has felt like a show that's been really exciting," said Bowe, who noted that the series continued to attract new viewers over the summer as the network streamed it on other platforms. "How many people watched it on an alternate viewing platform and now are going to tune in because now they can't wait to see the next one?"