BET Playing A Different Game

When BET announced their plans to order original episodes of the failed CW sitcom The Game in April 2010, no one was particularly shocked. BET’s interest had been widely documented by media outlets, and syndicated reruns of the series had performed strongly for the network. More surprising was BET’s ability to retain the entire cast of the series and the services of its showrunner, given the nearly year long gap between The CW’s initial decision to cancel the show and their own renewal announcement.

On Tuesday night, The Game made its triumphant return, breaking several records in the process. Not only did The Game’s ratings improve, they more than quadrupled from the show’s 3rd season average. 7.7 million tuned in for the show’s basic cable debut, enough to make it the #1 Ad-Supported Sitcom Telecast in basic cable history. Moreover, the show ranked #2 overall for the 10pm hour, behind only CBS’ The Good Wife. This unprecedented turn events left many industry pundits,  myself included, scratching their heads. What does the success of The Game mean for television as a whole?

Can Comedy Succeed At 10pm?

This is a question that’s come up a lot over the last year or so. NBC defended their decision to schedule The Jay Leno Show at 10pm by citing research that stated American audiences wanted more comedy options at 10pm, but the show’s ratings seemed to suggest otherwise. FX has successfully aired comedy at 10pm for several years, TBS airs most of their original programming at 10pm, and even Spike has found moderate success with Blue Mountain State at 10. But, none of these shows have pulled ratings even remotely close to The Game’s 7.7 million. In fact, it seems unlikely that NBC’s 30 Rock will pull those kind of numbers when it shifts to 10 on January 20th.

Are People Still Watching TV At 10pm?

While The Game was setting records, other shows airing at 10pm on Tuesday weren’t fairing quite so well. FX’s Lights Out debuted to a paltry 1.5 million. TNT’s Southland did slightly better, pulling 2.1 million. On the broadcast side, Detroit 1-8-7 and Parenthood pulled 5.2 and 5.6, respectively. Only the seemingly impervious CBS continues to thrive at 10pm with the aforementioned The Good Wife drawing 12.2 million. In the weeks leading up to the premieres of Southland and Lights Out, TNT and FX saturated the market with promotional materials. Yet, I saw very little promotion for The Game’s return.

Did The CW Blow Their Chance At A Hit?

This is perhaps the trickiest question of the bunch. On Wednesday night, I saw a bunch of tweets bashing The CW for their inability to make The Game a hit. But, I think its too easy to say that The CW dropped the ball with The Game. They gave the show 3 years to find an audience, during which time it rarely attracted more than 2.2 million. I think the problem is a general lack of awareness about The CW as a network, rather than its individual programs. I’ve spoken to numerous individuals in the past year who’ve never heard of the network. Next fall, I think The CW and its new Entertainment Chief need to be more aggressive about the promotion of their brand. And, that brand needs to be less alienating. The reason that The WB was so successful was its ability to target young people in general, rather than just young women.

So, Why Did The Game Succeed?

If 10pm viewership is drying up and very few comedies have been able to carve out an audience at that time, what makes The Game different? I think the The Game’s success is an indication of how under-served the African-American community is. Outside of the few ethnic comedies that TBS airs, there are very few original programs targeted to said demo. And, as anyone whose had the misfortune of sitting through Are We There Yet? and House of Payne can attest, their humor is incredibly cheap. Comparatively, The Game is like a great American classic. The real takeaway here is that broadcast networks should be more aware of the the African American demo this pilot season.

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4 Responses to BET Playing A Different Game

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention BET Playing A Different Game « TV Musings and Thoughts -- Topsy.com

  2. At first I was kind of sceptically but little did I know that by the end of reading this entry I will shift my perspective 180 degrees.

  3. I love your Blog, it’s nice when you can tell somebody actuallly puts effort into a blog, and gives the blogs value.

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