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Beware of TV’s buzzsaw

Positive press doesn't always mean big ratings

Networks love to tout that their new shows have buzz, but a new report suggests that pre-season hype isn’t all it’s, well, hyped up to be.

Ad buyer Magna Global went back over the last 10 seasons and tallied up which frosh shows generated the most advance positive press. Think last year’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” or CBS’s much-heralded 2000 remake of “The Fugitive.”

Report then fast-forwarded to the end of each season to see which skeins ended up as success stories. Turns out the two lists often didn’t match.

Last year, for example, there was precious little noise surrounding “Shark” and “Brothers and Sisters.” Indeed, the latter skein had pretty dreadful buzz. Both shows, however, were among the year’s biggest hits — while “The Nine” and the aforementioned “Studio 60” tanked.

“Shows that the press and Internet anoint as most buzzworthy are often not the ones viewers turn into hits,” says Magna Global’s Steve Sternberg, who doesn’t ever really explain how he defines a “buzz” show. “Schedules that don’t seem sexy, innovative, or edgy enough are often derided in the press. But viewers also like comfort food.”

Sternberg’s study doesn’t completely dismiss the impact of buzz. Forecasters often get it right, whether it’s the drumbeat of praise for “Ugly Betty” or the advance annointing of “Desperate Housewives” as a groundbreaking newcomer.

The report argues that buzz was particularly accurate when it involved shows on the now-defunct WB and UPN. “Felicity,” “Charmed,” “Smallville,” “Everwood” and “Everybody Hates Chris” were all touted as winners, and all survived multiple seasons (though “Felicity” died young).

If the pattern holds true for WB/UPN successor CW, that net should be in for a good fall season: Its “Gossip Girl” and “Reaper” are among the seven skeins Sternberg says have the most buzz headed into the frame.

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