By Nivea Serrao
Genre television has always been tricky. While shows like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” or AMC’s “The Walking Dead” prove not only ratings hits, but receive critical acclaim, series like ABC’s “The Neighbors” and the CW’s “Beauty and the Beast” do not seem to attract the same level of attention or audience viewership, leaving network executives hesitant to take a chance on new shows.
However as this fall pilot season has proved, perhaps networks need to take more leaps of faith when it comes to new programming, instead of sticking to what might be perceived as recipes for success.
After all, the biggest success story so far has been FOX’s “Sleepy Hollow.” Not only has the sleeper hit already developed a strong fan base, but its viewership has continued to increase since its debut. As a result the series has already earned itself a full season pick-up.
Similarly, all three of the CW’s new dramas — “The Originals,” “Reign” and “The Tomorrow People” — have also received full seasons. This means that the fledgling network has fared best so far as it has yet to cancel anything.
More than that, all these shows have fared better than NBC’s remake of the police procedural “Ironside” and ABC’s “Betrayal” — a drama looking to capitalize on the success of glitzy primetime soap “Revenge.”
But for every genre show that’s proved successful this season, there are those that haven’t. Though in many cases, this seems to be because networks often turn to what has already proven successful in the past and attempt to recreate it.
This can be seen in ABC’s “Once Upon A Time in Wonderland,” a spin-off of ratings hit “Once Upon A Time,” and Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” a small-screen extension of the Marvel film universe. But as both shows’ declining numbers have proved, spin-offs of popular series and adaptations of successful franchises don’t always result in ratings success — even with extensive marketing campaigns.
Neither do updates of popular characters, as NBC discovered with the steadily declining “Dracula,” which has neither attracted a fan base similar to that of “Hannibal,” nor any of the same critical acclaim.
That’s not to say that some formulas aren’t tried and true when it comes to ratings success.
Not all of this season’s success stories are genre shows. NBC’s “The Blacklist,” renewed for a full season, is a procedural-thriller starring James Spader, while ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and “Trophy Wife” — also renewed for full seasons — are both sitcoms featuring dysfunctional families.
And as CBS proved with “Mom” and “The Crazy Ones,” both renewed for full seasons, the right big name star — in these cases, Alison Janney (“The West Wing”) and Robin Williams (“Good Will Hunting”) — can sometimes help make a show work.
In the end, there is no foolproof way of determining a pilot’s success. And given how expensive television production is, it’s only natural that networks want to replicate success as much as possible. But this doesn’t mean that every other show need be a “CSI” spin-off or a sitcom featuring a dysfunctional family.
Genre television offers a way around that, by providing opportunities for stories that aren’t being told. Not only does this increase the chances of finding a hit television show, but it gives the audience interesting viewing options.
After all, how many TV shows feature a headless horseman?
Nivea Serrao is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.