How To Achieve (Relatively) Wild Success

Chances are you might not be aware of a new show that has helped its network both build and broaden its audience from what it inherited but also find a way to do so in a fiscally responsible manner.  You might recall we had a pretty prolonged strike last year that dealt with the reality checks that arose when far too many other executions failed to deliver on one or both of those goals for either buyer or seller.

But in 2024, we’re finally seeing scripted series trickle back, and even a few brand new ones are finding their way into consideration sets.  One of the first was a breezy procedural featuring the attractive leads of Vanessa Morgan and Giancarlo Giannotti in an unlikely partnership to redeem both of their lives.  As Wikipedia describes it:

Cole Ellis (Giannotti), a demoted water-cop, arrests Max Mitchell (Morgan), a transient con woman. While in custody and being held at the station, she helps him solve another crime. The pair are offered an opportunity at redemption – Ellis a chance to get back his detective badge, and Max a chance to stay out of jail – they just have to pair up and work together.

No, it’s not quite as epic or as original a premise as some of the gambits that have been attempted by the likes of Taylor Sheridan or Ryan Murphy of late.  And far fewer people are watching WILD CARDS, the show that stars Giannotti and Morgan that completed its first CW season last night.  But unlike some of the secondary efforts of those bigger name producers, it has delivered on its promises of a larger, growing audience with a profile far more meaningful to an owner like Nexstar than the shows which the CW had championed in recent years.  The success of CW series like the Greg Berlanti-helmed interpretations of the DC universe and other IP adaptations like RIVERDALE, the dark and sometimes dystopian vision of the Archie comics which Morgan had a recurring role in, were far more meaningful to their producing studios than a network whose affiliates aired lots of local news and occasional off-network reruns for the balance of their broadcast day.

So maybe we’ve seen the formula elsewhere–case of the week, light banter, conflict with superiors, and a nice dose of sexual tension between two attractive leads.  MR. AND MRS. SMITH.  POKER FACE.  Going back, MOONLIGHTING and HUNTER.  What do they have in common?  They WORK.  And, on a relative basis for the still-evolving CW under Nexstar management, WILD CARDS is working, and on many metrics, better than even the likes of more established procedurals like Dick Wolf’s One Chicago.

And because I know and, in full disclosure, have worked at times for the show’s producers, Lloyd Segan and Shawn Piller, I know darn well they’re not breaking any banks in the process.  They have figured out that joint ventures between Canadian and US networks create alliances and opportunities for cost savings that going it alone do not.  They were able to produce last summer when most of their US-exclusive peers could not.  They were exactly what the CW needed for their relaunch–a series about redemption for a platform seeking its own.

Piller/Segan came together at the beginning of the century when they paired on USA Network’s interpretation of THE DEAD ZONE, which had an impressive six-year run as a Sunday night compliment to a night that would begin for many with THE SOPRANOS.  They also coaxed six seasons out of what turned out to be ABC Family’s longest-running series, GREEK.  And–thanks to some of what we were able to unearth when Syfy was contemplating the fate of another one of their North American collaborations, a Friday night beachhead called HAVEN.  We found truths and headlines digging deep into their numbers that even the vaulted NBCU researchers somehow missed.  HAVEN wound up going six seasons as well.

It may be premature to assert WILD CARDS will follow suit; after all, it’s a far more complicated world these days.  In six years, as the 2030s commence, who knows if the CW will even exist.  But WILD CARDS has shown lots of encouraging signs already, and it’s achieved its growth and following WITHOUT the benefit of a global streaming service.  Those rights, as well as rights for a format that travels well, are still available.  Knowing a second season is guaranteed will make those sales efforts much more viable.  MIPCOM, the international sales expo head annually in Cannes, is next month.   There is most definitely a story to be told, and we’re working extremely hard to tell it as completely and as expeditously as possible.

Occasionally I’m asked what gives me professional joy.  Far and away it’s opportunities like this–to help quality people like Piller and Segan educate prospective buyers and partners on what they may not already know and provide meaningful context in the process.  Making money is pretty nice.  Making it for the right kind of people in a manner where facts still matter is much, much nicer.  Believe me, I’ve worked in enough situations to the contrary that often left me feeling a tad dirty.

If you happened to miss WILD CARDS’ first season, you’re not alone.  Its average audience has yet to top seven figures, and because it’s a linear-first proposition the number of minutes spent with it is a minor point (though, to be sure, relative to other CW online properties, it’s achieved more viewership in less time with fewer episodes than almost anything else in their portfolio).  And if you do happen to have access to that platform, or the CBC Gem platform if you’re in that part of the world, I urge you to at least sample it.  It’s familiar, appealing and potentially addictive–in a good way.  Not a lot of television today hits those touchpoints.

My goal is to find a way to get it out there somewhere where you’ll be able to find it easier, and perhaps help the CW (and CBC) originals grow in the process.  My previous employer did that with BREAKING BAD.  The current chief of The CW did that at his prior gig with SCHITT’S CREEK.  We both know it’s possible because we’ve both been part of success stories that did.

Let’s all root for a happy ending for this drama.  It deserves it and, frankly, so do I.

Until next time…

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