The Muppets is just one of several freshman shows with a pre-sold brand the networks hope give them an edge this fall. The prime-time schedule includes two movie adaptations (Fox's Minority Report, CBS' Limitless), a spinoff (NBC's Chicago Med), a revival (NBC's Heroes Reborn) and a comic book character come to life (CBS' Supergirl). Still other retreads are waiting in the wings for midseason, including Rush Hour (CBS), Uncle Buck (ABC), Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (CBS), The CW's Arrow/The Flash spinoff D.C.'s Legends of Tomorrow and, the most anticipated of all, Fox's limited-series revival of The X-Files.
With so much video content competing for viewers, a show based on a familiar brand may be a safer bet. "You have to look at every possible opportunity to do something that makes a show stand out for a consumer who's being spoken to by many, many different companies," says Fox Television Group co-CEO and co-chairman Dana Walden, who also green-lit a limited-series rehab of Prison Break. "The ones that resonate the most clearly with our viewers are obviously ones that are going to get the greatest opportunities."
The strategy worked last year with CBS' NCIS: New Orleans and CSI: Cyber, Fox's Gotham and The CW's The Flash, all of which rode their built-in brands to a second season. "It does hopefully give you a leg up because there's pre-sold awareness, and there's already a Heroes audience that I think we can tap into for Reborn," says NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt. "But it's also a double-edged sword. You've got the specter of the original show hanging over your head: Can the new incarnation of it measure up to the old one?"
Media buyers are taking a wait-and-see position. "That brand recognition will certainly help and can encourage more tune-in viewership, but in a sense it's almost harder because they have a built-in audience that has a preconceived expectation. So they really have to hit it out of the park to keep those fans engaged with the show," says Darcy Bowe, vp, media director at Starcom.
One recent indication that the nets may have gone overboard with the recycling: NBC last month canceled a revamp of Craig T. Nelson's hit ABC sitcom from the '90s, Coach. The series had been slated for midseason, but after seeing the pilot, the network had a change of heart. "Starting with a familiar brand gives you a leg up, but ultimately consistency, delivering quality on a consistent basis, is what keeps your audience there," says CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler. "You can't settle for anything that is less than excellent."
This story first appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.