The irony of scripted TV is that audiences demand smarter shows, but in many cases when they get it, they don't know what to do with it. Tonight ABC (a subsidiary of Disney (DIS 3.51%)) will try to succeed where other networks have failed and launch the next "smarter" series. But you have to wonder if it's nothing more than an illusion.
Tricks of the trade
Kyle Killen has staked out a reputation as a smart showrunner. He isn't afraid to take on complicated storylines with lots of crisscrossing elements. In fact, that's what critics loved about his previous two series, Lone Star and Awake. The problem was audiences weren't too keen on that style -- Lone Star quickly became "Lone Viewer" and Awake never turned into the sleeper hit it was expected to be.
His latest, Mind Games, is slightly different. It centers on two brothers and their team who use tricks of the mind to help their clients. While an interesting concept on paper, the show will face an uphill battle on air. Tuesday's at 10 p.m. has become ABC's (second) version of a death slot. Previous entrants this year included the short lived Lucky 7 and the limited-run series Killer Women, which will likely not be extended.
Mixing it up
The next night ABC will air Mixology, a new comedy from producer Ryan Seacrest (yes, that Ryan Seacrest). This is a high-concept series -- it follows 10 singles looking for love at a bar over the course of one night. The entire season takes place over literally a few hours, with the idea being a second season would likely involve a new group of characters.
Unlike Mind Games, which boasts Christian Slater and Steve Zahn as its leads, Mixology is comprised mostly of unknowns. The bar is essentially its biggest star, which is not going to entice audiences. However, it will have Modern Family as its lead-in, but history has shown that only helps so much.
The scheduling game
The common theme is that both series are examples of newer thinking and ideas that are too risky to play in the fall, so are instead held for midseason. While we've seen elements of these shows before, the blend of those elements is different. Of course, "different" with viewers doesn't always work -- many have a hard time getting into what is not familiar, which is why we're stuck with so many police procedurals. Even if viewers decide to take a chance with something a little less safe than yet another copycat show, many also (rightly) fear getting involved with a new series only to have it pulled after three episodes.
ABC is coming off a period in which executives purposely put their best shows on a break. The idea is that by delaying the series returns, they could run the remaining episodes uninterrupted the rest of the season. The problem is the shows used to fill the void in the meantime were failures.
As per custom, ABC still has a ton of shows on its bench to launch in the final months of the season (including Mind Games and Mixology) and now the trick becomes scheduling them so they are given a chance to succeed. It's a giant game of mixing and matching to ensure its series aren't launching against a big episode of its timeslot rival or being given a solid lead-in one week and then having a rerun do the trick for the next three.
People can forget there is a business side to these shows and that often dictates when a network needs to swing its axe. If a show starts off with a limited marketing/PR push and then gets pushed around by the critics, it's already airing with two strikes against it. Both of these series fall into that category.
In this industry timing and perception is everything and the perception is the timing just isn't right for going too far outside the lines. Regardless you have to give ABC credit for trying something new; they just may have picked the wrong shows to use as part of the experiment.