Cable Grows a Pair

Zombie-loving young men aren't likely to opt for 'The Good Wife' over 'The Walking Dead'

Where, oh where is a broadcast show with some chest hair?

Cable series are better bets for young men by a margin that seems to get wider every fall. There are the returning Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story on FX, and AMC’s Halloween bonanza The Walking Dead— all of them remarkably close to the beginning of the broadcast season, and with little competition.

Sons, for example, is up against ABC’s five-year-old medical drama Private Practice, NBC’s Parenthood and CBS’ Dennis Quaid starrer Vegas—none of which have exactly made young guys a target demo. And while Walking Dead will be across the line of scrimmage from the NFL, it’s perfect counterprogramming to others on the broadcast slate—CBS has The Good Wife, and ABC has Revenge.

Time was, a cable network would never debut a big scripted series at the beginning of the broadcast season; it was assumed the cable shows, with their smaller budgets, couldn’t compete. But Walking Dead and American Horror Story are October affairs, and both set ratings records. “Over the past few years, you have seen some migration (of GRPs),” said MediaVest svp, group client director Francois Lee. “There are some cable shows that are already looking like prime-time shows. From the point of view of a consumer, you wouldn’t say Walking Dead is on cable, Fringe is on broadcast—one’s just on AMC and the other’s on Fox.” FX raked in $520.8 million in ad revenue in 2011, per SNL Kagan—huge for a single cable net.

And young men are big spenders where it counts, said Lee. “Gadgets, video games, movies, entertainment—it’s a lot of the hot categories right now.”

The trouble is that they don’t tend to watch general-interest shows. If you’re trying to create something that is fun for the whole family, it will be fun for everybody except a 19-year-old man. Broadcast isn’t uninterested in young men (Family Guy and American Dad, both opposite Dead, are proof that the networks are still trying), but guys dig genre programs. Charlie Collier, president and gm of AMC, said that he’s never set out after the fabled “four-quadrant” (young/old/male/female) show—that’s not really what cable’s good at. “We ask, ‘As we develop this concept, how do we superserve a specific target?’” Collier explained. “Hopefully it’ll become a sizable target audience’s favorite show.”

And these days, everybody has some kind of inner fanboy (or -girl). Genre stuff isn’t only for guys. BBC America’s Doctor Who and HBO’s True Blood are both beloved by majority female fan bases. Superserve enough of those specific targets, and suddenly you’ve got everyone.