‘Sleepy Hollow’: How Washington Irving update quietly became TV hit


Turns out the Headless Horseman can gallop the ratings distance, at least in Fox’s supernatural series “Sleepy Hollow.”

A thoroughly modernized retelling of Washington Irving’s horror classic “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the series has quietly become the kind of hit that network TV executives dream about -- and that Fox desperately needs as it confronts sharp viewing drops for its singing contest “The X Factor.”

Why quietly? Well, when you look at the week-to-week numbers, “Sleepy Hollow” might not seem all that impressive. For the week that ended Sunday, the show was among the Top 10 dramas in the key adults 18-to-49 demographic and drew a respectable, if not eye-popping, 7 million total viewers according to Nielsen.


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But once you see how many people are watching “Sleepy Hollow” on DVR playback, the show’s strength becomes apparent. In fact, “Sleepy Hollow” ranks No. 2 on the list of prime-time network shows based on the ratings points added through DVR viewing (No. 1 is CBS’ sitcom smash “The Big Bang Theory”).

“Sleepy Hollow” is averaging just a 2.9 rating in the 18-to-49 demographic for viewing that happens the day the original episodes premiere. But once a week of playback is added, its average shoots to a 4.9 rating -- a hit in just about anybody’s book these days.

Add it all up, and “Sleepy Hollow” is outdelivering “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “NCIS” -- just to cite three other hit shows.

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So how were the producers able to get this much traction out of a short story that’s almost 200 years old?


By clever refashioning. With not enough narrative in the original story for a weekly TV series, the writers had Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) dying and then being reanimated in 2013 to do battle with his nemesis, the Headless Horseman. From there, the concept was basically reshaped into a procedural with a time-travel hook, with Crane and his allies investigating misdeeds seemingly perpetrated by a resurrected Horseman.

What do you think of “Sleepy Hollow”? Sound off in the comments.


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