Face it, some TV shows matter more than others.
For example, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. matters more to ABC than Grey's Anatomy because Scandal is already a huge Thursday night winner for the network. By contrast, S.H.I.E.L.D. has built a following without any lead-in ratings support and in the process given ABC the bankable Tuesday night property it's long lacked.
I'm telling you this so you'll understand why I chose the shows you see below as the most anticipated TV properties of 2014. These three, I think, matter most to the studios producing them, and consequently to us as investors in entertainment stocks.
Episodes ordered: Pilot
Starring: Grant Gustin
Premise: Episodes 8 and 9 of season 2 of TheCW hit Arrow introduced audiences to Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, a Central City police scientist who is slated to become the super speedster known as The Flash. We don't know much beyond that right now. But if Arrow is any indicator -- and with DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns teaming with Arrow co-creators Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg to write the pilot, the comparison seems fair -- the idea is to have Gustin take inspiration from Stephen Amell's Starling City vigilante in becoming Central City's hometown hero. He'll need a fast start in the pilot, which has yet to be scheduled.
Promise: The bigger idea, of course, is to use television to expand the range and scope of the DC Cinematic Universe so that when Wonder Woman appears in 2015's Batman vs. Superman, a significant portion of the mythos will have already been established elsewhere. That, in turn, should make it easier for studio parent Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) to focus on epics rather than origin stories.
Episodes ordered: 16
Starring: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan
Network: Starz (NASDAQ:STRZA)
Premise: Based on the hit book series from author Diana Gabaldon, the show tells the tale of a married former WWII combat nurse transported in time to feudal Scotland, where she proceeds to fall in love with a young warrior.
Promise: Not exactly an all-in bet since Starz also has the pirate drama Black Sails on the horizon. But that's also a new concept while Outlander is based on beloved source material. In ordering a full 16-episode season, Starz is betting that executive producer Ron Moore, one of the principal architects of Syfy's award-winning reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, will once again figure out how to draw a wider than expected audience to a niche concept.
Premise: Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan apparently sees this spinoff as a prequel that reveals how Bob Odenkirk's crooked lawyer, Saul Goodman, got involved with the shady characters that would ultimately lead him to Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
Promise: Reports say AMC, which has distribution rights, and Sony, which produces, haggled over the details till the last minute. The good news? There's enough confidence in the product that AMC has agreed to a full series order, though you could argue the network didn't have much choice with Breaking Bad finished and Mad Men nearly complete.
Netflix, meanwhile, will stream Saul episodes in Europe and Latin America shortly after they air on AMC in the U.S. North American subscribers will get access after the season finale airs. We don't yet have a timeline for Saul but all three studios participating in the project have a lot riding on the ratings.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. Which do you rank as the most anticipated TV shows of 2014? Which studios do you believe are best positioned to profit in the year ahead? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Netflix and Time Warner at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.
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