The networks are in the midst of unveiling their high-profile new series at the upfront presentations in New York, but for summer, they’re heavily arming themselves with reality.
By Labor Day, 26 new reality shows will have premiered on network and cable television, and another 20 shows that fit the reality/game show definition will have returned.
And overall, it’s a cuddly summer: The shows are ones that families and advertisers can cozy up to, even among the dramas debuting between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
CBS is sticking to its time-tested summer strategy of clearing the decks for three days a week of “Big Brother,” beginning in early July; ABC gathered up the roses for the return of “The Bachelorette” Monday night, brings back the sports competition series from the ’70s, “Superstars” on June 23, then revives two weeks of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" starting Aug. 9. As for Fox, it adds some hefty folks to the “Bachelor” format for “More to Love,” starting July 28, in addition to returning game shows.
Perhaps the most crucial returning reality series, though, is the fourth season of “America’s Got Talent,” which NBC plans to pivot off to market its slate of new summer series — three reality, three scripted dramas — and ease into Jay Leno’s nightly 10 p.m. run in the fall. Late in its run, “Talent,” which has regularly attracted between 11 million and 12.5 million viewers weekly, will be a key platform for NBC to promote its fall line-up.
NBC has a significantly larger slate of original programs than any other network, broadcast or cable, a move that owes to its planned move toward year-round original programming.
“Movie companies and others have products to pitch in the second and third quarter, and when it’s healthy, the ad market is looking for original programming,” said John Miller, chief marketing officer, NBC Universal Television Group and president of the NBC Agency.
NBC’s summer begins June 1 with “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here,” which will play Monday through Thursday for three weeks and be cross-promoted with MTV, a first for the Peacock. MTV signed on when its talent Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt from “The Hills” agreed to do the show; Viacom-owned MTV will air episodes of “Celebrity” after they first appear on the GE-owned NBC.
“Celebrity,” which has been promoted during May sweeps with “live from the jungle” shots, will be used to promote “Talent” and “The Listener,” one of NBC’s three new scripted dramas that is being targeted as an anchor for Thursdays. “Talent” also be used as a promotional platform for “The Philanthropist." “Merlin,” a drama that starts June 21, is being viewed as key to the Sunday lineup.
Beginning July 7, “Great American Road Trip” will be position as the lead-in for “Talent.” The show is an adaptation of a BBC format; the dramas — “Philanthropist,” “Listener” and “Merlin” — are all adaptations of formats that have been successful in other countries.
“All of them are advertiser-friendly programs,” Miller noted.
“Talent” is the only show on NBC’s summer schedule that will have an advertising budget for cross-channel promotions and viral activity. Product integration and tie-ins were not firm prior to the upfronts, though Miller says the “Great American Road Trip” will have “plenty of opportunities.”
CBS, which says it is pleased with the ratings its reruns deliver in the summer, is again turning over good chunk of its schedule to ‘Big Brother’,” this summer marking the 11th edition of disparate people locked in a house in the San Fernando Valley.
The show, which has not had a major rule change since its fourth season, plays no role in the promotion of other series, delivers no spin-offs and its alumni generally do little more than return in “Big Brother”-related activities. But it does attract a consistent and faithful audience of more than 6 million viewers to CBS that does not necessarily tune in during the September-May season.
“It was ahead of its time in terms of multi-platforming, and that helped it expand its audience” CBS’s Bresnan says. “There are a lot of opportunities for the audience to have an impact on the show, and the more ways we utilize that element the better. It’s the one show the audience can help manipulate the game.”
While “Big Brother” continues to stand apart from the rest of CBS programming, the Food Network has made its ratings champion and signature series a summertime staple. “The Next Food Network Star,” a competition series that starts its fifth season on June 7, will feature a lineup heavy on the network’s current stars, celebrity chefs and locations that have not been previously visited.
“When it started, it was done in the summer when there was not much else around. Now it has a lot of competition,” says Allison Page, VP of programming at the Food Network.
Last season’s finale was the highest-rated, most-watched telecast in the network’s history. It attracted an average of 4 million viewers, 2.2 million of which were in the target demo of 25-54, according to Nielsen Media Research. It was a 27 percent increase over the season three finale.
The fifth season will feature a dozen Food Network hosts, among them Rachael Ray, Alton Brown, Emeril Lagasse, Ted Allen, Tyler Florence and season 3 winner Guy Fieri. The champ will be crowned on Aug. 2, and his or her show will premiere a week later.
Throughout the season, Food Network uses its signature series as a lead-in or lead-out for other shows that are then moved to other time slots. Keeping the Sunday schedule fluid, Page says, “is the way so many viewers find new shows.”