Time for two more Commandments of Television. This one has to do with the difference between how men and women chose what to watch.
I just want to say up front that in my business, you sometimes need to generalize a bit. When we screen pilots, and even when we test them, we often will say things like, “This is a female-skewing show” or “No one under 50 is going to watch this.” Of course, men will watch something “female-skewing,” and we all know a young person whose favorite show is “NCIS” or “Bones.” Without some way to categorize shows, however, everything becomes a crapshoot.
Network television is a game driven by women 25-54. CBS plays it well. FOX continues to operate under the delusion that they are some sort of hip, younger-skewing network. They do attract a young male audience for their animated shows on Sunday, but targeting “young” and “male” has niched them down to where they generally deliver 2 or 3 million viewers below the other networks. The ninth Commandment of Television addresses this issue:
IT’S EASIER TO GET WOMEN TO WATCH SHOWS INTENDED FOR MEN THAN IT IS TO GET MEN TO WATCH SHOWS INTENDED FOR WOMEN
When movies were a big part of our strategy, I ranked all movies — made-fors, miniseries and theatricals — on all networks on women and men 18-49, then indexed the ratings for each group against the overall 18-49 rating. There was a clear and obvious pattern.
The primary difference between the movies women and men would watch (IN GENERAL!!) was that women were capable of watching movies that need an explanation, while men only needed a title — but if you needed to go beyond a few words, forget about it.
The “male-skewing” movies would still manage to get lots of women, but most “female appeal” movies would get minuscule ratings among young men.
I guess the lesson in all this is still a factor today. When you look at “Game of Thrones” or “The Walking Dead,” they both deliver a pretty gender-balanced audience. Both are shows that, on the surface, look like they will have limited female appeal. However, even with the action and violence, there are strong elements of family in both of these shows. There needs to be something for everyone.
The 10th Commandment of Television addresses an issue that was emerging in the late ’90s, when these rules were generated:
PEOPLE WHO REALLY WANT TO SEE SEX AND VIOLENCE ON TV HAVE BETTER CHOICES THAN THE NETWORKS
I have often talked here about “cable envy,” which was expressed by networks complaining they cannot make the kinds of shows people consume on premium cable or even some basic cable channels. The networks are constrained both by advertisers and also by the fact that they don’t own the licenses to broadcast in the vast majority of local markets. They have to be sensitive to “community standards,” which of course vary throughout the country.
The point we were trying to make here is that yes, there are limits as to what a network can offer, but that just requires us to be more creative in our storytelling and not rely on sensationalism. I know that sounds a bit “conservative” or prudish, but those were the rules that we had to play by 20 years ago, and to some extent, they remain in place today.
My all-time favorite example of how to be creative but yet edgy is the “Seinfeld” episode “The Contest.” Other comedy showrunners would try to get away with more raunch after that episode, but rarely did it approach the cleverness and creativity of that episode.
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