The Premiere Week Manifesto 2.0 (Fall 2013)

TV is constantly evolving. The way shows are made, the ways shows are digested, and the ways shows are discussed are all constantly under evolution. In 2013, there are so many more shows to watch in so many more ways. It’s almost impossible for someone to go at it alone. With even modest cable packages checking in at 200 channels, figuring out how to parcel out your TV time during the fall can be quite daunting. Enter the Premiere Week Manifesto.

Though there have been some tweaks to the original, the principals behind its creation remain the same. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the massive influx of television starting in mid-September, I decided to create a set of guiding rules and principals. The Manifesto is designed to provide you with a plan of attack for the coming assault of Premiere Week. Armed with a quality DVR service and the Manifesto, you should be able to tackle all the week (and beyond) has to offer you.

Rule #1: When in doubt, go with the established show

Beckett and Castle - Castle

The hard numbers are pretty damning of new network television shows. Less than 25% of new shows that premiered on CBS, NBC, or ABC will see a second season. Overall, 48% of network shows that premiered during the 2012-2013 season will be back. Basically, for every Elementary (whose numbers weren’t even THAT great), there were two 1600 Penns. New shows on networks are under more pressure than ever before, so tread lightly.

Normally, you’re a lot safer with cable shows given the much lower threshold of advertising dollars required to make a show a viable product. Still, with the ever-growing glut of television shows, it’s becoming harder for cable shows to stick out when everyone knows (or think they know) the recipe. Just over 50% of new shows on cable networks were renewed for a second season. With more options than ever before, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out. Something like FX’s The Bridge would have been a lock a few years ago. Now, the show’s fate remains up in the air as the first season winds down.

These facts should way heavy on your mind when you’re considering your fall viewing schedule. Digging deeper, it’s pretty easy to establish what types of shows are easier to get renewed. In general, it’s far easier to get a comedy renewed (unless your NBC) than it is for any scripted drama. The reasoning is simple: At half the run time with little to no effects needed, comedies are far cheaper to produce than a drama. The lone exception are the dramas that are co-produced with an overseas partner, but that’s probably more research than you’re interested in doing. But as an example, there is absolutely NO WAY Hannibal gets renewed if NBC Universal was footing the whole bill.

With all of this in mind, if you are trying to decide between two shows on a given night, the safer play is to watch the show that is clearly established in the American zeitgeist. It’s tough to go out on one show to watch a new show only to see the new show canceled within 3 episodes. Now, you have to find the time to catch up with the other show. That being said, feel free to roll the dice if you think the established show has gotten stale/terrible. Just don’t say you weren’t warned when Hostages gets canceled, and you have to figure why Castle and Beckett are having relationship issues.

Historical Example: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip– Everybody jumped on this bandwagon, the show never hit its stride, and Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, D.L. Hughley, and Amanda Peete were all out of work after 22 episodes.

2013 Example: The Blacklist– The arrival of James Spader adds a lot of heat to the new NBC drama. Still, if there’s anyone who knows that James Spader doesn’t necessarily equal ratings or good television, it’s NBC. (Cut to showrunners of The Office nodding vigorously.)

Rule #2: Know your streaming and On Demand options

boardwalk Empire Chalky White Valentin Narcisse

A lot of channels put up their shows on On Demand either right after or soon after the previous episode airs. Therefore, if you are trying to decide between 3 different shows, check your cable provider’s On Demand listings to see if they have the show on there. For the first week, you will just have to check and see if the show is available. For example, I know ABC has a solid database of On Demand shows with U-Verse. I know if I miss Modern Family on Wednesday, it isn’t a huge deal because I can catch it later On Demand.

If you are going the On Demand route with a show, be mindful of dates. Some shows will only make previous shows available for a few weeks. Always check to see how long the show will be available and plan to watch it before then. With your favorite shows On Demand, it is important that you don’t “try to find the time,” you make the time.

In addition to the On Demand options, channels (particularly cable channels) are beginning to offer their own streaming services for subscribers. HBO Go is the pioneer of this new movement, but now many networks have plans to do streaming services that make all of their new episodes available shortly after they air. Many channels are still working on their streaming services, but know that plans are in the works for channels like Showtime, FX, and the Viacom channels (MTV, Comedy Central, etc.). In addition to some of these cable channels and Amazon Prime, it’s going to be easier than ever before to keep up with shows. It’s not that hard to imagine the broadcast networks even jumping on this train. We’re not quite there yet, but stay tuned.

Rule #3: Consider how you feel about watching shows on your computer

Parks and Recreation season 5 episode 22 Are You Better Off? (3)

Some people are totally fine with watching shows on their computer/iPad/iphone/whatever. While some people don’t enjoy the experience, plenty of people don’t mind it or don’t even own a television and digest all their TV through those devices. If you fall into the latter group, then take comfort in knowing that most shows will pop up on Hulu, Amazon Prime, or the television stations website. Not all of them will show up, but if your show doesn’t pop up in your On Demand database, you can usually watch them on your computer if worst comes to worst. More importantly than that, shows that get put online tend to stay there for a longer period of time.

(Note: Though you can find some shows on their website, CBS doesn’t have a strong presence on the interwebs or On Demand. They don’t play by the new rules, and they frankly don’t give a f***. Make your adjustments accordingly)

Rule #4: Seek the best story, not the best actors

marvels agents of shield abc 01

Personal confession alert: I’m an acting snob. I love good acting. I love watching the acting choices actors make in any given scene. I’m always on the lookout for ancillary characters who flash some impressive chops. However, I can’t stand bad acting as much I love good acting. Bad acting can absolutely submarine a show. You can tell a rather interesting story, but if you don’t have the actors to make it go, then your show may end up on the sidelines.

All that being said, even an acting snob like me has figured out that you have to find the best story first. I’ve seen too many actors I really enjoy being forced to carry hacky stories with an equally hacky supporting cast. At the same time, I’ve watched a large number of shows with an unknown, and underrated, cast and really superlative writing churn out some of the best television I’ve ever watched. It’s just happened too many times to be ignored at this point.

Historical example: The Shield– Don’t you dare say what a huge Michael Chiklis fan you were before The Shield premiered, because no one will believe you. Sure, he’d been in some stuff, but there’s a difference in being Michael Chiklis from The Commish and being MICHAEL CHIKLIS.

2013 example: Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.– I know you know Agent Coulson, but the rest of the cast is pretty nondescript. Still, Marvel and Joss Whedon are prominently involved, so there’s a good chance we have the makings of a potentially special series.

Rule #5: Know the time slots of death

super fun night cast abc 01

Not every hour of the television week is created equal. There are many places where new shows can come in and compete right away. Likewise, there are time slots where shows are likely to get creamed. If you are looking to grab on a show likely to stay around, pay attention to its competition. Though the same day ratings are getting less and less important, they are not completely devoid of meaning. It doesn’t matter what percentage bump a show gets from its Live+3 ratings if the show doesn’t get any eyeballs on the night it airs.

In addition, a lot of networks will attempt to draw eyeballs to new shows by sticking them behind one of their big heavies. Though the idea of a lead-in isn’t what it used to be, it’s still practiced by the broadcast networks. Even cable networks dabble in the lead-in theory. If your new (or existing) show is moved behind a ratings monster, it can tell you a lot about the network’s belief in the show.

Historical example: Last Resort (2012)- Lots of people (including this guy) were high on Last Resort prior to its premiere. There was Andre Braugher, submarines, attractive women, and Andre Braugher again. It seemed like a winner. Unfortunately, ABC slotted it against the ratings giant The Big Bang Theory. Add that to the fact Last Resort doesn’t exactly fit with the Shonda Rhimes demographic ABC tends to attract, and the show was done in 13 episodes.

2013 example: Super Fun Night– ABC appears to be all-in on the Rebel Wilson Bandwagon. They’ve bought up all the seats as evidenced by slotting her show right behind Modern Family. Modern Family hasn’t proven to be a solid show-launcher as of yet, but it’s the biggest horse in the stable, so they’re going to let Rebel hitch her wagon to it.

Rule #6: Give new shows a chance

Ladies and gentlemen, making television is difficult. When you consider how much time and effort goes into the making of a pilot, you can understand shows may struggle in the few episodes that follow it. There’s so much to do in any pilot that the second episode is always a come down. For reasons like this one, it’s important to hold fast to Rule #6. Some shows take awhile to become what they ultimately will be. Therefore, if the show can pitch you an interesting storyline or compelling characters, try to hang with it for awhile. You may see your faith rewarded.

Historical example: ScandalScandal’s first season was met with a tepid response from television viewers and critics alike. Then, everything went bananas in season two and now it’s one of the most talked about shows on television. Those that hung with the show can now feel free to be smug towards the bandwagon hoppers.*

*Don’t do that. Seriously, everyone hates those guys.

2013 example: Brooklyn Nine-Nine– Comedies are notorious slow starters. Still, the talent is there (Andy Samberg and the aforementioned Mr. Braugher), and the pilot isn’t bad. Despite everything I mentioned in Rule #4, betting on talent is usually a winnning proposition.

Rule #7: Beware the Showkillers

Steve Zahn and Christian Slater - Mind Games

Some actors just can’t seem to catch a break. It can be a poor story, poor acting, or poor promotion, but some actors routinely find themselves on the business end of a swipe from the Cancellation Bear. There’s plenty of examples to underscore this phenomenon (Moon Bloodgood was last year’s nominee), but one example saddens me more so than the others: Christian Slater.

Full disclosure: I love Christian Slater. I’ve written about him in the past. I don’t know why it hasn’t worked out for him. Scratch that, I know why it hasn’t worked out for him. Whoever is picking these projects for him is doing a HORRIBLE job. Still, he’s earned the showkiller label. Whether he shakes it this season or not with his new show Mind Games is up for discussion. Just keep in mind you’ve been warned.

Rule #8: Don’t forget about cable

Despite all of the hype surrounding premiere week for the major networks, it’s the cable channels who have been stealing the spotlight lately. Between Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Homeland and others, a lot of the cable spotlight is already spoken for. However, with everyone getting involved in the scripted TV game, it’s important to search around the dial for compelling television. It requires some diligence on your part, but if you can find some buried treasure deep in your cable channel lineup, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. In addition, make sure you keep a steady eye on the premiere dates for cable shows. Very few premiere during premiere week, and they’re bound to be put up anywhere.

Historical Example: Top of the Lake– What? Exactly. Premiering in March on something called the Sundance Channel, Top of the Lake premiered with little fanfare, but has become one of those shows that enjoys a second life thanks to the increase in ways to obtain content. Now, some people consider it one of the best things to be on television in 2013.

2013 Example: The Returned– Another Sundance Channel offering with a twist. What’s the twist? Well it involves zombies… and the thing is entirely in French. A highly acclaimed series in the land of baguettes and casual smoking, The Returned promises to be a wholly compelling original drama. If you’re a person who doesn’t mind a few subtitles, there really could be something here.

Rule #9: Beware the random premiere dates

TV Equals Schedules Fall 2013 Sunday

Not all shows will debut between September 23-29. Some will go the week before like Boardwalk Empire, others will come a month later, and there are several new shows and returning favorites will pop up around midseason.

My suggestion: Get yourself a schedule and keep it handy. Fortunately, you don’t need to go anywhere else to find a useful television schedule. TV Equals’ daily schedules have you covered. If you would prefer something in list form, we’ve got you covered there as well.

Rule #10: Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone

We all have certain genres of television we prefer over others. This is a safe space. No one will yell at you for not watching Mad Men. If you prefer a tidy hour of television where everything gets resolved inside of 42 minutes, then go with (insert deity of choice). In all cases, remember that television is meant to be entertaining. Think about the types of shows that entertain you and stick with those. The television you watch is a personal choice. You don’t have to necessarily watch Mad Men so you can talk about it at parties.

That being said, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone on occasion. After all, we only grow as a person when we do. Here’s my suggestion: Pick one show that’s off of your beaten path. If you like episodic television, pick a serialized drama. If you like drama, pick a comedy. Despite the additional headaches it may cause, we’re fortunate to have so many quality options across the dial. This Premiere Week, step outside your comfort zone and try something new. The television world is so vast that your next favorite series may be hiding deep in the recesses of your cable listings. Armed with this guide, you are now ready to go forth and find it.