Shows like ‘The Muppets’ have an edge with familiar ring

CBS’ “Supergirl” had a 33.8% viewer awareness score, according to the most recent data compiled by Ipsos MediaCT.

CBS’ “Supergirl” had a 33.8% viewer awareness score, according to the most recent data compiled by Ipsos MediaCT.

(Sonja Flemming / CBS)

When it comes to new fall TV shows, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt.

According to surveys the networks use to measure how aware consumers are of the new programs and whether they intend to watch them, the titles scoring the highest are the ones that are already established.

ABC’s “The Muppets,” CBS’ “Supergirl,” NBC’s “Heroes Reborn” and Fox’s “Minority Report” have the top awareness scores of the new shows, according to the most recent online data compiled by Ipsos MediaCT during the week of Aug. 31-Sept. 6.

All are what the TV industry calls preexisting titles. For instance, “Supergirl,” which had a 33.8% awareness score, is based on the DC Comics franchise. And “The Muppets,” with 62% awareness, is the return of Jim Henson’s classic felt characters to TV after a series of movies.


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All of the shows, along with Fox’s “Scream Queens,” rank in the top five with their “intent to view” scores, in which viewers were asked if they planned to watch.

“I’d call it the year of inflated titles,” said Tom Kelley, research manager at Ipsos, noting that the percentage of survey respondents aware of “The Muppets” is the highest the company has ever seen for a new show. The Muppets last aired on prime-time television nearly 20 years ago.

The data explain why networks are increasingly turning to known franchises just as the movie business has done. Building awareness is a major challenge in today’s crowded TV landscape, and an established property does a lot of the heavy lifting.


“It’s why you’re seeing some of these things on the air,” said one veteran broadcast network executive.

Every summer, the networks look at weekly viewer surveys to measure viewer awareness and interest in watching their new shows. The data are primarily used as a guide for their marketing and promotion efforts.

If the figures are strong, it means that advertising efforts pushing the shows are working. If the scores are low, the advertising can be altered to hopefully give the shows a boost.

But the high scores for the shows based on established franchises are making those decisions more complicated. Networks must determine whether consumers are responding to the name or the promotional weight behind it.


“I would say all of us at all the networks are trying to read between the noise in those preexisting titles and their inflated numbers,” said Andy Kubitz, executive vice president for program planning and scheduling at ABC. “It makes it challenging for us to figure out if the marketing is working.”

The job for ABC is to make sure the large number of people who say they are aware of “The Muppets” know that it’s a new TV show coming on, not another movie or the old TV series.

Among the others scoring high, “Heroes Reborn,” with 28.2%, is a reboot of NBC’s sci-fi hit first launched in 2006. “Minority Report,” which scored 35%, is based on the 2002 theatrical hit directed by Steven Spielberg.

After “Supergirl,” the next-highest scoring title in awareness for CBS is “Limitless,” with 25.4% of the survey’s respondents. The drama executive-produced by Bradley Cooper also is based on a feature film.


The highest awareness score for a show that does not have an established title belongs to Fox’s “Scream Queens,” the comedic take on the horror genre from “Glee” co-creator Ryan Murphy.

Fox has been heavily promoting the series since it was first picked up in May and it’s paid off — the title’s awareness is at 31.6%, with 10.6% of respondents saying they intend to watch.

Networks also like to see growth in the numbers from week to week as the shows get closer to launching. On that front, ABC is seeing an upward trend for “Blood & Oil” and “Dr. Ken.” Awareness has also improved for the CBS medical drama “Code Black.”

Among the shows premiering in September, CBS’ “Life in Pieces” and NBC’s “The Player” are the laggards in both awareness and intent to view, according to Ipsos.


But network executives say they try not to get too exuberant over positive numbers — or too depressed when they come in low. One reason is that the best promotional platform that network TV has — consistently high-rated National Football League telecasts — is just starting up.

“Our awareness jumps once football starts,” said Jeff Bader, president of program planning, strategy and research for NBC.

The pre-season studies are also only an indicator of how a show’s premiere will do, not its long-term prospects. Nor do they take into account delayed viewing and streaming after a show has aired in its time slot, which now looms larger in determining whether a series is a success.

The networks also can depend on their hit shows to bring an audience to their new ones. So while a big billboard on Sunset Boulevard can help, it’s nothing like being on the schedule after the biggest hit sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory.” “Life in Pieces” is the only show that lay claim to that.


Twitter: @SteveBattaglio