Broadcast Networks Aim to Reclaim Summer With Scripted Series
Poppy Montgomery | Photo Credits: Barbara Nitke/CBS
The Steves are behind the upcoming 13-episode CBS summer series Under the Dome, based on King's best-selling thriller about a New England town that becomes sealed off from the rest of the world. It's a major undertaking, but if it succeeds, Spielberg and King may accomplish what others have failed to do for decades: Launch a big scripted network hit in the summertime.
And Under the Dome isn't the Eye network's only big summer play. Also on deck: The Poppy Montgomery drama Unforgettable — which was canceled last year — has been resurrected and is moving to summer for its second season.
CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler says the network is making a concerted effort to keep the lights on during the vacation months. "I think we're looking at audiences' evolving viewing habits," she says. "The impulse to seek out and consume original content is now a part of our culture. We're looking at the willingness to experiment and try different ways of scheduling and different times to offer original content."
CBS isn't the only network looking to finally make some real noise with scripted fare during the off-season. NBC just picked up the 13-episode series Camp, a dramedy from Liz Heldens (Friday Night Lights) and Peter Elkoff (Gossip Girl) about families at a summer camp. "It's important," NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt says of expanding his summer output, which will also include several new unscripted series in addition to America's Got Talent, American Ninja Warrior and The Voice (which spills into June). "We have he good fortune of being in a massively good place with unscripted. But we want to do more scripted."
NBC's Hannibal could also wind up in the summer (depending on how well its midseason debuts perform). "If you look at all the great cable shows that are on in summer, I think it could fit really nicely in that world," Greenblatt says.
At ABC, that network plans to launch the new sudsy drama Mistresses and bring back Rookie Blue. (Another show, the paranormal drama Weird Desk, was delayed.) Fox is keeping its plans close to the vest, but entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly has also hinted at grand plans: "I'm going to try a few things differently," he says.
The need for change comes out of necessity. The networks realize that they can't keep losing momentum every summer. Cable dominates original scripted television from May to September, as broadcasters focus mostly on reality series. "Do I want more competition?" asks Michael Wright, head of programming at TNT, TBS and TCM. "No. But it's the reality of the game. And I'm sure the broadcast networks aren't thrilled that we are running into the fall and into the winter. But you have to."
Scripted originals that do air on the networks in the summer are usually burn-offs: Shows that didn't make the schedule in the fall or winter; leftover episodes of shows already canceled; or foreign acquisitions like Canada's Rookie Blue and Flashpoint. But beyond those two entries, few other imports have succeeded (though they may be cheap enough to be profitable, even with super low ratings). "What we're trying not to do is grab foreign co-productions that are already made and cheap enough that we just put on our air," Greenblatt says. "That's not a bad business decision. But with Camp, which is the first time we've done this, we wanted to take a show that we developed and can get excited about."