Who knows drama? Cable does. And it’s changing the TV business as we know it.
While networks bulk up on cheap reality shows (note NBC (GE) booking “The Marriage Ref” and game shows “Minute to Win It” and “Who Do You Think You Are?” for their fall line-up), shows like AMC’s “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” are finding critical and ratings success on cable networks.
Viewers are taking notice. The premiere of “Justified,” a Western-style show starring “Deadwood”‘s smouldering cowboy Timothy Olyphant, nabbed 4.2 million viewers last month. It was FX’s (NWS) highest-rated original series debut since “The Shield,” which brought in 4.8 million viewers in 2002.
As Bill Carter at the New York Times points out, quality dramas are fleeing to cable.
The shift to cable also reflects a changing business model for the drama, one that is no longer dependent on making 100 or more episodes to sell in syndication. Instead, these cable dramas rely on tighter budgets, subscription fees paid by cable operators, smaller deficits and most crucially, investment by international networks. Read more at the Times >
Some major studios are cutting down on quality dramas and axing new programming before it has a chance to gather an audience (look what happened to The Jay Leno Show).
Meanwhile, cablers are nurturing good shows that may need more time and eventually become more valuable than broadcast ‘s reality fare.
FX keeps Damages around, and might even renew it for two more seasons, even though it is hurting in the ratings. FX banks on DVD sales and international syndication at $2 million per episode, as the NYT reports. They also grab a valuable, smart audience, which advertisers might like.
That’s a business model we can appreciate.
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