INTERNATIONAL: US TV shows get spiritual and father-friendly to woo viewers - Nick Peters reveals why TV shows this autumn will be sharing common themes

Making successful TV shows in the US is becoming an esoteric science more akin to chemistry than art. To succeed, you have to develop a formula that works and, if you cannot do that, find someone whose formula does work and copy it.

Making successful TV shows in the US is becoming an esoteric

science more akin to chemistry than art. To succeed, you have to develop

a formula that works and, if you cannot do that, find someone whose

formula does work and copy it.



The result is that for every new hit show that emerges, competing

networks will clone it the following season - a triumph of demography

over imagination - as they try to capture the key audiences that will

deliver as large a slice of the dollars 6 billion network TV advertising

spend as possible.



This is the time of year when the autumn season’s programming schedules

are unveiled for advertisers, and spotting the developing trends in TV

shows has become something of an art form among agencies. Leo Burnett,

for example, summarised this year’s emerging trends into one ideal plot:

’Set in 2015, a single father with superhuman powers sets out to conquer

the evils in his home town, alongside his ex-wife and colleague, played

by Jenny McCarthy. (McCarthy is a brassy, blonde ex-Playboy model whose

success on MTV has led to an NBC sitcom contract.) At day’s end, he

returns to his home in Queens where, racked with the romantic tension

with which he is consumed at work, he trades comic barbs with his

live-in grandparents and teenage daughter.’



It sounds ghastly, but not much more so than the various shows whose

elements went into its creation. As the hypothetical scenario

demonstrates, the trend is towards some very clearly defined themes in

programming.



New York is the prime choice of location for new shows, followed by Los

Angeles. Otherwise, most primetime shows take place in some unspecified,

unidentified city or suburb.



Single, sensitive, caring dads are in - happy nuclear families are

out.



Paul Sorvino, the actor who has played gangster roles in mafia films,

notably Goodfellas, has a new series in which he is the widowed father

of three teenage daughters. Tony Danza, a veteran of Taxi and Who’s the

Boss?, plays a divorced writer raising two teenage daughters. Where a

full family is portrayed, members are shown as weird and

dysfunctional.



The old staple of cops and special agents has morphed into shows about

people with extra-special skills. One is easily identifiable to UK

audiences - Cracker, ABC’s new Los Angeles-based cop show, is derived

from Granada’s hit series of the same name, which starred Robbie

Coltrane.



Above all, spirituality is all the rage. CBS had a major hit with a

drama series about people whose lives were Touched by an Angel, and new

shows entitled Promised Land and Nothing Sacred are eagerly following

that lead.



Betsy Frank, the executive vice-president director of strategic media

resources at Zenith Media in New York, has been reporting on network TV

trends since 1969 and says: ’TV is most successful when it is able to

tap into consumers’ minds and can offer either a place of pure escape or

a surrogate family that viewers will want to visit each week.’



She says the new schedules focus on family diversity, science fiction,

working-class values, nostalgia and the spirit world, adding: ’They may

well be tapping into the very trends that are influencing consumers in

1997 - a new spirituality, the search for community and faith in

technology.’



Edited by Karen Yates, Tel: 0171-413 4271.



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