…Is all wrapped up in its unique position as a former “Fall” season stand-out now set to return in the summer. Which, it seems, could usher in a whole new TV programming paradigm. (This assumes, of course, that viewers actually watch things when they’re scheduled instead of when the viewers feel like it, and that assumption is, we think, on its way to being totally wrong. But till then:)
Could Bringing Back CBS’sUnforgettable Be the Secret to Saving Summer TV – by Joe Adalian
Last May, CBS briefly canceled first-year drama Unforgettable, the Poppy Montgomery procedural about a detective with a perfect memory that averaged nearly 12 million viewers, regularly won its Tuesday timeslot, and ended last season as the No. 1 freshman 10 p.m. drama on TV. While Unforgettable would have been considered a hit on any other network, Eye suits at the time told producer Sony Pictures Television that they needed shelf space for new product. But then, barely two months after swinging the ax, CBS unexpectedly announced it had decided to bring Unforgettable back after all. There was just one big twist: Rather than making room for the show in the fall, or even midseason, the Eye would save Unforgettable for summer 2013. While Poppy Montgomery fans probably aren’t too concerned with the particulars behind her show’s resurrection, the deal CBS and Sony hammered out might end up being about more than saving a single series. If it works, industry insiders say its success could help networks reeling after another post–Memorial Day ratings slump finally figure out how to (successfully) program original scripted series in the historically unsuccessful summer.
It’s not as if broadcasters haven’t tried before to make scripted comedies and dramas work in the so-called off season. Twenty years ago this summer, CBS tested out the quirky comedy Grapevine, only to see ratings wilt and the show canceled after six weeks. That same year, when Fox was a fledgling network, it moved episodes of young hit Beverly Hills, 90210 to the summer in order to launch Melrose Place. The plan worked, but only because Fox was operating under a different business model than other nets (i.e., Rupert Murdoch spending whatever it took to get his network off the ground), and because Aaron Spelling was able to churn out up to 35 episodes per year of the shows. (And even Fox ultimately reverted to putting both shows back in the regular season in order to maximize profits.) In 1997, Fox tried summer again, holding a big news conference in New York to let the business press (and advertisers) know that the network was going to go all-out to schedule first-run fare. In addition to pre-Survivor unscripted shows such as Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?, it aired episodes of soap Pacific Palisades and an expensive-looking medieval actioner called Roar (starring then-unknown Heath Ledger), and the effort was a complete flop. More recently, CBS put the full-cost soap Swingtown on the air after Memorial Day 2008, but the sudsy hour from Revenge creator Mike Kelley didn’t produce much Nielsen love. A year later, NBC trumpeted a “summer schedule packed with original scripted series”; unfortunately, nobody showed up for the likes of The Listener, The Philanthropist, and Merlin. And just two years ago, in 2010, ABC rolled out Scoundrels and The Gates, while Fox tried out dramedy The Good Guys. All three struck out.
What’s different about what CBS is doing with Unforgettable is that, unlike virtually all of the past attempts at summer originals that attempted to woo viewers with a fresh concept, this show is a known quantity to viewers. Instead of throwing on something new and untested, CBS is taking a successful, big-budget scripted drama and purposely shifting it to summer — not to burn it off, but to see if a significant portion of the viewership that made the show a success during the regular season will come back to watch it again in the off-season. CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler told Vulture she thinks this will giveUnforgettable a big leg up over past summer contenders. “You’re starting with a show that has a proven track record [and] a cast the audience knows and loves,” she says. And because 12 million people, on average, made an appointment withUnforgettable last season, “You’ve done your marketing already. There’s a lot of TV out there, and this will already have brand awareness.”