Can a psychiatrist's theory about how babies see the world also predict TV shows? Robin Williams should hope so.
Gary Reisman's company, NewMediaMetrics, has been using baby-based research for eight years to predict how new fall series will do in the ratings, and claims an 80 percent accuracy rate. According to an analysis provided to TheWrap exclusively, Reisman's best bet for the upcoming season is Williams' CBS sitcom, "The Crazy Ones."
What a coincidence, you may say. I also think a show on the top network, starring a famously funny Oscar winner, will likely be a hit. But NewMediaMetrics is going by more than its gut.
Each year, networks and advertisers spend millions trying to gauge what shows will last past their initial episodes. NMM uses a concept from psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby (left) called Attachment Theory. It is based on an infant's need to develop an attachment to a caregiver in order to properly mature emotionally.
You've heard of using TV as a babysitter? To Reisman, we're all kind of like babies when it comes to our viewing habits. He says the most important factor in a show's success isn't its stars, but rather viewers' immediate connection with its premise.
"People are drawn to watch ideas, not talent," Reisman told TheWrap.
Networks must be taking their checkbooks out, right? Not exactly. NewMediaMetrics has worked with NBC, Fox and FX in the past, as well as a number of other cable networks. But currently, only a few cable stations — such as Ovation TV, Fuse TV and TVOne — employ the company. Or at least those are the ones Reisman can disclose, who added, "Plus we are currently working with other networks that we cannot mention at this time."
One broadcast network insider says companies that claim they can predict a show's future are like "snake oil salesmen."
"There's a lot of these companies out there peddling their wares," the insider told TheWrap, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Every once in a while somebody comes in, they give a good presentation and you say, 'Why not? Let's give it a shot,' the insider said. "Generally they don’t last longer than a year."
But Reisman says his success rate is higher than that of the broadcast networks. Last season, for example, his company gave one of its highest scores to NBC's "Revolution" — which turned out to be the biggest hit of the fall.
"They think they have it all figured out," Reisman said. "Their track record suggests something else."
Here's how it works. After networks unveil their new shows to advertisers at their May upfront presentations, NewMediaMetrics and a marketing partner present loglines describing show concepts to 3,000 people across the U.S. They rate their emotional attachment to an idea on a scale of 1 to 10. For returning shows, only the show title is provided.
Ninety percent of the time, no cast members are named in loglines, but for shows like NBC's "The Michael J. Fox Show" — which Reisman also expects to do well — there's no hiding the star's name. Still, the celebrity factor rarely turns out to matter, he says.
From the responses, NewMediaMetrics assigns what it calls a LEAP (Leveraging Emotional Attachment for Profit) score. The patent-protected system also factors in a show's time slot, network demographics, and lead-in.
And voila: Reisman has a hit or a miss. What's a good score?
"Anything over 70, I'm jumping for joy," he said.
And a bad one?
"Anything under 40, I'm not touching with a 10-foot pole," he said.
Though the predictions are made 6 months in advance, NMM's predictions are not typically released until September. This year, the company gave them to TheWrap a month early.
At the end of each season, Reisman (left) and co. compare their predictions to Nielsen ratings and show rankings. For the past seven years, NMM's predictions have been, on average, more than 80 percent accurate, Reisman boasts.
But yours would be too, says the network insider, if you tried to do yourself what the company does.
"I'm not belittling them," the insider said. "I guarantee you, if I gave you the loglines for all the new series and I told you what network they were on … you probably wouldn’t come up with a very different list. … Our experience has been that it does’t add enough to what we learn from doing the more traditional awareness and intent studies."
Wait, you say. If it's so easy, why don't 80 percent of shows succeed? Maybe because networks take lots of risks. Failed shows may sting, but a successful show like "Two and a Half Men," which goes on to become a syndicated hit, can be a billion-dollar business. Failure is built into the process.
"By the way, most shows fail," the insider said.
Here is a chart with NMM's predictions of what will new shows will succeed and fail this season in making it past 13 episodes.
NMM says "The Crazy Ones," starring Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar, has the highest likelihood of succeeding — 87.1 percent.
"Super Fun Night," starring Rebel Wilson, is the new series that is most likely to be canceled — it only has a 26.3 percent chance of going beyond 13 episodes.
NMM also predicts how networks will fare overall. CBS, for example, is expected to be the top network again this fall, and "The Crazy Ones" is predicted to slide in snuggly as its third highest-rated show.
Here is CBS' full slate for the fall, in order of how the returning and new programs are expected to shape-up — new series are highlighted:
"The Crazy Ones" and "Hostages" are near shoe-ins for renewal, according to NewMediaMetrics. The company believes that "The Millers," "We are Men" and "Mom" may survive through one season, but most likely will not make it past two.
The shows had lower than average LEAP scores — but their scheduling may save them for now, the company believes. "The Millers" has "The Big Bang Theory" as a lead in, "We Are Men" has "How I Met Your Mother" as a lead in and "Mom" has "Two Broke Girls" as its lead in.
What will succeed and what will fail may seem like an endless debate. But it's not. We'll know by next May what survived. And NMM will have new loglines to consider.