Update: with ABC already announcing the early renewal of Rookie Blue, I might have to reevaluate its grade and change the criteria. While Rookie Blue doesn't appear to be a show ABC would gladly air in the fall, even at a 1.5 rating, the price might be right (I've heard the Canadian-produced show is fairly inexpensive for ABC).
There's a fairly straightforward gauge for determining just how serious the networks really are: how many shows are they airing in the summer that they would willingly include in their Sunday-Thursday fall schedules?
If they wouldn't include the show in the regular season or would but only on a Friday (as in "The Good Guys") they aren’t really that serious about the shows. By that benchmark here's a report card for how serious the broadcast networks (minus the CW which isn’t airing any original scripted programming) really are. By that criteria, the networks are mostly not at all serious about scripted shows this summer.
Serious About Scripted In The Summer Report Card:
None of the networks except Fox ("Lie To Me") even aired a single show they would’ve been comfortable airing Sunday-Thursday during the regular TV season. Due to that I graded on a curve and gave FOX a C- for at least having one show that met the criteria.
It’s not as objective as I’d like because someone could easily and perhaps reasonably argue: C’mon ABC might have tried “Scoundrels” or “Rookie Blue” at 10pm during the normal season. How much worse could it do than ratings dreck like “The Forgotten” or “Eastwick” or even “Detroit 1-8-7” or “The Whole Truth?”
C'mon, It's Like the Lottery: You Have to Play to Win!
The odds of winning the lottery are astronomical. However, most people really don't play to win, they pay $1 for the excitement of something like a 1 in 200,000,000 chance they could win. The odds are better for the networks summer shows, the problem is even if they go bare bones on production costs, it still costs way more than a dollar. Plus if they go cheap, the chances of success are lowered even further.
In Defense of FOX's "The Good Guys"
I think when FOX ordered the good guys its intent was to legitimately be serious about summer programming, but by the time they saw what they had they changed their minds. Unlike Bill, I will give FOX credit for at least trying. I'm sure it hasn't panned out as they hoped, but as a lover of scripted content I do hope they will try again.
Why Not New Reality?
I can see the broadcast networks being at the point where the no longer wish to simply cede the scripted landscape in the summer to cable networks. But if they are going to really make a serious attempt it will involve putting on better shows and not crap they knew would bomb during the regular season or cheap fare they hope will catch on.
But the thing that interests me in any discussion about how the networks best shot might be trying scripted isn’t how much better the current summer unscripted is doing compared to scripted shows it’s this: the number one show on TV, “American Idol” was born in the summer, and another show with a decade of success under its belt, CBS’s "Survivor," was also hatched in the summer.
What was the last "hit" scripted show that was launched in the summer and then ran for a decade in the normal TV season?
But Advertisers Are Willing To Pay More for Scripted Shows!
That advertisers are willing to pay more for scripted shows is often brought up in the discussion of scripted versus unscripted. But it’s mostly a red herring. It’s worth noting if you’re comparing two shows that both have a 1.2 rating and one is scripted. But if the unscripted show has a 2.4 adults 18-49 rating and the scripted show has a 1.4 rating, guess which one makes more advertising revenue? Hint: it’s not the scripted show.