I have a confession. I’ve been addicted to TV Guides ever since I was a kid. Not to the extent that Elaine Benes’ obsessive suitor was; I can’t make a bouquet out of its pages. But I do try and peruse every listing and make notations when I see something of interest–not that I’d watch, but to make a mental note that something at least I thought was significant was about to, or had recently, occurred. Frankly, it helped me tremendously to establish what street cred I have had, and would like to believe some still think I have, as an idiot savant of all media.
So I already knew of the oddity that a Facebook friend recently pointed out with this somewhat surprising screenshot of the brilliantly produced and massively popular comedy game show FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK being broadcast on The Weather Channel. This person’s reaction, as well as those of those who chose to comment, was one of surprise, if not outright confounding. You can use many words to describe this show, and Lord knows I have run the gamut of adjectives both positive and pejorative. Newsworthy is definitely one that would ever apply.
But in a media landscape that has nary a positive trajectory where advertisers and investors care first and foremost about quantitative performance, and where a situation exists where one entity fully owns both content and platform, the concept of finding a way to squeeze a few more viewers and dollars out of one’s assets uch as this example shows is not only necessary, it is not without precedence.
In the same grid where I first noticed FYSA’s presence on TWC, I noticed two episodes of FAMILY MATTERS, a TGIF sitcom last produced in 1997, running on truTV, ostensibly Warner Discovery’s home for male-appeal reality. In West Coast prime time, no less.
The braintrust that now runs these networks had long ago established their ability to blur lines of what an average viewer would expect from a channel. These are the same people that took enough liberty with an entity once called The Learning Channel to turn it into TLC, the home for such educational fare as MILF MANOR and MATCH ME ABROAD. The same people that proudly run NAKED AND AFRAID, and its several spin-offs, on The Discovery Channel.
Not that the folks who used to run the Turner networks were necessarily any less cavalier about certain shows. I worked diligently with their team when Sony launched a reboot of the classic game show JOKER’S WILD, hosted by Snoop Dogg, on TBS several years ago. With a far looser and comedic tone and Vegas club-type setting than the original, its placement on a network that was known as a home for both classic and original comedy made some sense, and the first season performed decently. But after a less successful second cycle, the strategic geniuses of the time decided to move it to their sister network TNT, which was for decades known as a network for drama. As I’d listen to people I once respected immensely attempt to explain the logic behind this move, if only so I could answer the questions of my stunned and mocking colleagues, I’d hear marketing-speak about how some anecdotal evidence suggested the tension of the game was consistent with the beats of a show like CASTLE. The truth was, it was a hail mary and an ill-conceived belief that there might be a few thousand more viewers available to the show on what was at the time a higher-rated network. Would you be surprised to know it was even less successful in season three, and ultimately cancelled–as were most of the executives who thought it was a good idea?
FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK has national advertising time which producer Byron Allen sells. The Weather Channel is far and away his most widely distributed network, carried in nearly three times as many homes as the show’s other cable home, Comedy.tv. Even accidental viewing could move a national ratings needle enough to round a 0.3 into a 0.4, which in a simplistic reporting landscape would translate to a +33% increase. That could be enough to have the show renewed for another couple of seasons, and perhaps put hundreds of thousands of dollars more in the pockets of its hard-working and forward-thinking showrunners.
We’ve seen this trick to goose national ratings and coverage on wholly-owned platforms many times before. The Paramount networks will frequently dual-illuminate awards special events on several of their networks. YELLOWSTONE episodes on MTV2. The BET Awards on CMT, right after a marathon of LAST MAN STANDING. Remember when CMT once stood for Country Music Television? It allegedly still does.
Besides the odd FAMILY MATTERS placement, you are as likely to see an original non-comedy game show (THE CUBE) or a baseball game on TBS as you are an episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY (well, not QUITE that bad, but they do often run back-to-back). This month, you are more likely to see a hockey or basketball game on TNT than you are any drama. And in a day where people have become inured to googling how to find anything, contrary to what some less experienced marketers might be conditioned to believe, viewers follow shows, not networks or platforms. And to many who now run media companies, these kind of details are interchangeable on every level. According to the minions who programmed MAX’s UI prior to launch, a producer and a director are both “creators”, and a reality show and a scripted drama are just content”. There may not be many who subscribe long-term to a channel or platform for just one show, but there’s even fewer who are likely to cancel.
So fret not, Facebook friends. Don’t adjust your dial, or whatever you may use to find something to watch these days. It’s not all that odd to see a game show on a channel ostensibly dedicated to weather. And the long-range forecast is there’s likely to be similarly stormy disruptions of the status quo ahead. Because most people don’t watch as much as you do. Or care.
Until next time…