What happens to the fall TV schedule post-pandemic? A quick explainer
Editor's note: TV production, like pretty much everything else in the U.S. economy, is of course in complete disarray right now as the coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate. To help make sense of what becomes of the seasonal TV calendar amidst an extended production shutdown, Ad Age media columnist Simon Dumenco picked the brain of Ad Age TV reporter Anthony Crupi to serve up this executive summary for marketers and media people:
So Variety is reporting that networks and studios want to delay the entire “For Your Consideration” season that precedes the Emmys, in part because of concerns that it would be “gauche to be campaigning for an Emmy right now” and also because of all the pandemic-related production shutdowns. What’s going on with the TV calendar overall?
The Emmys calendar shift is the only logical response to what’s bound to be a multiple-month interruption in production. We’re already midway through pilot season and only one, a Chuck Lorre comedy, is finished. At this rate, there’s no way the 2020-21 broadcast season will start in September, so there’s really no point in trying to sell 80 percent of the primetime inventory in June.
What’s the Chuck Lorre sitcom and how did it get wrapped so early?
The title is “B Positive” and it stars Thomas Middleditch—the sorta sketchy-seeming guy from that one HBO show about tech bros who used to be in those commercials for the phone company but isn’t anymore. “B Positive” was likely fast-tracked because, at the risk of repeating myself here, Chuck Lorre.
By the way, I count 53 or 54 ordered pilots and “B Positive” is the only one in the can. So for everything but “B Positive,” there is no possibility of cut-downs, and no screeners for buyers and advertisers to review. In other words, there is almost quite literally no reason to carry on with even a virtual upfront presentations—there’s nothing to sell.
Unless they want to trot out clips from the low-rated shows that they’ll be forced to renew in the absence of any new stuff.
Is there a precedent for a delayed fall TV season?
This is like 1980, when fans of “Dallas” had to wait ’til late November to find out who plugged J.R. Ewing. Only that time the delay was because of a Writers Guild of America strike rather than a pathogen.
The very idea of TV seasons has seemed increasingly pointless in the age of streaming. Does the pandemic kill off the last vestiges of TV seasonality?
No, because the TV marketplace—and this is mostly a function of kismet and coincidence and maybe dumb luck rather than foresight—is still keyed to the rhythms of the consumer calendar, which are in turn hard-wired to the thumping beat of the sports calendar. In the fall, when football season starts and the MLB postseason begins, people spend about $300 billion more than they do from January through August. Of course, it helps that the holiday shopping season coincides with all the bonus eyeballs served up by the NFL.
Well, consumers used to spend $300 billion more in the fall. Probably not this fall.
Well sure, but it’s not as if there won’t be a long, arduous recovery after which we go back to spending all our money on the same stuff we always did. Americans are nothing if not resilient. And predictable.
Anyway, go on.
So what was originally keyed to auto production and promotion cycles evolved into a fall TV push, and at some point, sports elbowed the entertainment shows out of the way. And as long as they’re still playing with spheres and orbs and that kind of thing in September, we’ll technically have a fall TV season.
Back to the “For Your Consideration” thing. It’s an odd b-to-b type of marketing phenomenon that then morphs into a b-to-c thing. In the b-to-b phase, the “FYC” racket amounts to millions of dollars of ad revenue for trade publications such as Variety. Followed by the networks spending the equivalent of probably tens of millions of airtime hyping their winners. The problem for traditional linear TV networks, of course, is that the winners increasingly come from the streaming universe.
Yeah, which is why it’s skull-clutchingly insane for the networks to continue airing the Emmys. The $45 or so million in ad revenue isn’t worth all the free media you’re providing the services that are eating your proverbial lunch and then are, like, pantsing you in front of the entire seventh grade. The Emmys broadcast is now a long, not-terribly-compelling infomercial for Netflix.