Disney (NYSE:DIS)/ABC's new Resurrection scored the second biggest overall premiere for a drama this year last Sunday, drawing in 13.3 million viewers and scoring a 3.6 rating among 18 to 49 year olds -- impressive numbers that were only surpassed by CBS' (NYSE:CBS) preview airing of Intelligence in January. Resurrection easily crushed CBS' The Good Wife (8.9 million viewers), Fox's (NASDAQ:FOX) Cosmos series premiere (5.8 million viewers), and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)/NBC's rerun of The Voice (3.9 million viewers) at 9 p.m.
The midseason drama, developed by Aaron Zelman, Brad Pitt, and Jason Mott, is based on Mott's novel The Returned, a tale about the dead returning to life in the town of Arcadia, Missouri.
Resurrection's pilot episode was written by Zelman, who previously worked on Law & Order, Criminal Minds, and Damages, and directed by Charles McDougall, who most recently worked on Netflix's (NASDAQ:NFLX) House of Cards. Omar Epps stars as immigration and customs enforcement agent Martin Bellamy, who is tasked with returning a mysterious boy -- who returns 32 years after his death -- to his family.
Yet despite Resurrection's strong premiere, history isn't on its side. CBS' Intelligence, which premiered with a whopping 16.5 million viewers, immediately plunged to 6.2 million viewers by the second episode and has since failed to recover. NBC's musical drama Smash, the top midseason premiere among younger viewers back in 2012, drew in 11.5 million viewers but lost roughly half of its viewers by the end of the first season.
Will Resurrection avoid the fate of Intelligence and Smash? Let's take a look at the key strengths and weaknesses of the show to find out.
Why Resurrection could succeed
Resurrection has a strong cast full of well-known actors. House M.D. fans have probably missed Omar Epps, Kurtwood Smith is well-known to fans of That 70s Show, and Devin Kelley was last seen in Covert Affairs. The writing and directing team is solid, and backing from Brad Pitt as an executive producer (through Plan B Entertainment, which produced 12 Years a Slave) indicates that the show could be here to stay.
The plot also bears distinct echoes of Lost, ABC's hit show that lasted for six seasons and drew in 13.6 million viewers for its series finale in 2010. The formula is similar -- a limited number of cast members in a small town (the real Arcadia has a population of 608) and an enthralling mystery that promises to get bigger with every subsequent episode.
The idea is if the writers can keep audiences guessing as Lost did for six years, ABC could have another hit series on its hands.
Why Resurrection could fail
Of course, Resurrection isn't the first to try to recapture Lost's magic. Other shows, such as ABC's Flashforward, Fox's Alcatraz, and NBC's Awake all tried a similar approach, and none of them lasted for more than a single season. All of those high-concept shows failed for two main reasons -- the cast lacked the charm of Lost's motley crew of misfits, and audiences weren't eager to participate in another wild guessing game after Lost's writers failed to tie up all of the show's loose ends with its polarizing series finale.
Flashforward mimicked Lost's narrative structure in reverse, by using future "flashforwards" instead of Lost's flashbacks. That idea failed because Lost's flashbacks added depth to the characters, whereas "flashforwards" just provided mysterious glimpses of an unfamiliar future.
Alcatraz introduced a mystery of prisoners disappearing from the prison in 1963 and reappearing in modern day San Francisco, but the prisoners were simply run-of-the-mill "monsters of the week" to be hunted down. Awake erroneously hoped that the mystery of a man stuck between two worlds, and not the dull characters within them, would keep viewers coming back for more.
Unfortunately, Resurrection's pilot more closely resembles those three shows than Lost. It suffers from the same problems -- it is relying on the ongoing mystery, and not its characters, to carry the show forward.
What Resurrection means for ABC
ABC has traditionally been the laggard of Disney's Media Networks segment, which accounts for 43% of the company's top line.
Last quarter, Disney's broadcasting segment (mainly ABC) only accounted for 29% of its Media Networks' revenue and 12% of its operating income. Broadcasting revenue fell 2% year-over-year while operating income plunged 32%. Those losses were offset by robust gains from Disney's Cable Networks (ESPN, Disney Channel, A&E), which posted a 6% gain in revenue and a 34% jump in operating income.
The ABC network has traditionally performed the best with a college-educated female audience with annual incomes exceeding $100,000. Therefore, the network constantly favors female-friendly shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Revenge, and Mistresses. It also explains the importance of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, a standout ABC show that appeals to a younger male audience.
Ratings for Resurrection on Sunday notably climbed at the half hour mark, and ranked first across all female demographics. The show also has a stronger chance of appealing to both male and female audiences compared to the majority of ABC's other primetime shows.
My final take
The main question now is whether Resurrection will be the next Lost or the next Alcatraz. If Resurrection can retain most of its viewers next Sunday and maintain its momentum, then it could have a decent shot at succeeding.
What do you think, dear readers? Is Resurrection just another high-concept show that is doomed to fail before answering any real questions, or does it have a chance at becoming ABC's next hit series? Let me know in the comments section below!
Leo Sun owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.