If Hollywood insiders had to bet on one new show delivering a big premiere rating this fall, they would put their money on Fox’s Gotham. The dark DC Comics drama starring Ben McKenzie is currently topping the charts in internal survey data collected by Nielsen for the broadcasters. But many other new shows may already be in trouble.
With two dozen new broadcast series helping kick off 2014-15 season, networks are quietly attempting to calculate which shows will become the next hit and which will die on the vine. Their confidential predictive tracking data, shared by the Big 5 broadcasters, survey potential viewers and chart their “awareness” of each title and “intent-to-view” of every new fall show. As you might expect, the data can sometimes give a false impression. (Last year, pretty much everybody surveyed had heard of Dracula, but that doesn’t mean the sexy take on the Count was a hit for NBC.) If nothing else, the numbers help inform executives whether their marketing efforts are effective.
Examining the data, here’s what veteran executives at each of the major networks (their names and affiliations not revealed so they could speak candidly) believe will initially pop and flop:
— Gotham (Fox): Fox’s comic-book drama is looking to open strong (though isn’t expected to beat its time-slot rival, CBS’ top-rated Big Bang Theory). “Gotham has great intent-to-view, no doubt about it,” said one executive. The big question is what will happen in the weeks after its premiere, especially since the show is set in the Batman universe — yet Batman is still just a 12-year-old kid named Bruce Wayne. “I got the Agents of SHIELD question: If I don’t see a cape in two weeks am I still interested?” said one rival insider who nonetheless gave Fox props for marketing the Batman-less show accurately (“With ABC’s SHIELD [last fall], you felt like the whole Marvel universe was coming to TV”).
— NCIS: New Orleans (CBS): The latest spin-off is tracking high. “It’s so ‘duh,'” said one insider. “It’s sitting behind the NCIS mothership [on Tuesday nights] and has ‘NCIS’ in the title.”
— The Flash (The CW): While nobody expects The Flash to deliver huge ratings, things are looking good for the Arrow spin-off.
— How to Get Away with Murder (ABC): Strong intent-to-view, especially impressive when you consider that Shonda Rhimes’ latest soap is not based on a recognizable brand name (unlike all the other titles above).
— Constantine (NBC): An example of mixed data telling a clear story: Not many are aware of the DC Comics-based show, but those who know about the upcoming Friday night drama really want to see it. So Constantine could inspire a small but passionate audience. The numbers are additionally impressive since the show doesn’t premiere until late October.
— Forever (ABC): Similar boat as Constantine, though scoring a bit softer.
— Stalker (CBS): There’s definite potential for Kevin Williamson’s dark crime drama to appeal to Criminal Minds fans. “I like its chances of success because of its lead in, and it has a catchy title,” says a rival.
— Black-ish (ABC): The racial family comedy has a moderately high intent-to-view but some — especially those who haven’t seen the trailer — reflexively dislike that title.
— Red Band Society (Fox): Premiered last night. Fox is pushing this teen hospital dramedy very hard so the show’s awareness is peaking. But looking beyond the numbers, insiders worry that the show’s premise is a tough sell. “It has a chance it could get a Glee-like audience, but it’s going to be small and very young,” one insider predicted, while another said: “It’s the toughest call of all the new shows — if the show becomes about the kids suffering, it’s going to be rough, yet if the kids are cured there’s no f—ing show.”
— Jane the Virgin (The CW): Blame the title, say insiders. The dramedy about a young woman who gets accidentally inseminated by her doctor is drawing harsh numbers. “It’s an example where a title can sometimes hurt you, even though it was one of the better pilots I saw,” said an executive at another network. While another executive said: “Anytime you put ‘virgin’ in a title it’s going to work against you, but it’s very memorable name and has high awareness.”
— Mulaney (Fox): Even though Fox’s sitcom is named after star and popular comic John Mulaney, awareness on his show is running low, and the same goes for Broadchurch remake Gracepoint. “Gracepoint and Mulaney are barely registering,” said one insider. Neither premiere until the first week of October, however, and will presumably climb a bit as Fox’s marketing efforts ramp up.
— Mysteries of Laura (NBC): Previewed last night after America’s Got Talent where it is expected to pick up some good sampling (even more than Red Band given its strong lead in). But the Debra Messing cop dramedy is expected to have some challenges once it moves to its regular time slot next week. “Mysteries of Laura will lay an egg,” promised one rival.
— Selfie (ABC): Plenty of viewers have heard of Selfie — or at least think they have — but lately the My Fair Lady update been scoring the lowest intent-to-view of all the new shows despite its awareness. Companion comedy Manhattan Love Story isn’t much better. Now comedies score lower than dramas in tracking data since sitcoms tend to be tougher for network marketing teams to explain and distinguish before they air. But one rival executive expressed his analysis this way: “Selfie is such a piece of s–t.”
As for the rest of new crop, the data is not saying much more that’s particularly useful at this point, especially for shows that aren’t going to debut until later in the fall (like NBC’s State of Affairs). And keep in mind that every year there are surprises that nobody could have predicted. Still … “Most things are going to flop,” noted one executive. “I’m not trying to be obnoxious. I’m being honest.”