Defining a cable hit

Ratings are vital, but branding a net also matters

“Mad Men” has three Emmys for drama series, a die-hard fan base and, at $3 million an episode, the most generous budget in basic cable. What it doesn’t have is a massive audience.

The AMC skein may be the toast of the town, but it’s far from a hit. The season four finale last October drew less than 2.5 million viewers, about a third of the eyeballs that tune in for an average episode of cable’s top series, TNT’s “Rizzoli and Isles.”

Despite the modest numbers, AMC and creator Matthew Weiner have agreed to at least two more seasons. In cable, ratings aren’t everything.

“Mad Men” is a valuable asset for the net because the show is popular among upscale auds, an attractive target for big-ticket advertisers such as BMW and Chase financial services, says Greg Kahn, an exec VP for Optimedia, a New York-based media company that specializes in marketing strategies. It’s also the platform that established the network’s brand: High-end grown-up fare.

The Jon Hamm-starrer helped set the stage for “Breaking Bad,” a consistent winner at the Emmys, and “The Walking Dead,” which became a top 10 cable hit in its first season.

“Quality is important to a lot of brands we represent, and quality is a barometer of whether viewers will come back,” Kahn said.

“Chelsea Lately” didn’t make a deep impact in the Nielsen ratings when it debuted four years ago, but it was key to identifying E! as a player in latenight and setting a snarky, not-so-serious tone that runs through its reality programming.

Chelsea Handler’s subsequent success as an author, stand-up comedian and gossip subject also provided an example of what other talent could expect if they joined the network.

“With a show like Chelsea’s, you can shift overall perception in ways the numbers might not indicate,” says Cyndi McClellan, E!’s exec VP for program strategy and research. “It also increases the amount of talent who want to be associated with you. When we started ‘The Girls Next Door,’ (about Hugh Hefner’s live-in Bunnygirls) those women didn’t have national notoriety. Now they’ve got careers on their own.”

Branding is especially valuable when a network is getting its feet wet. Peter Tolan, co-creator of “Rescue Me,” says he and partner Denis Leary were lucky to come to FX in the early stages, right on the heels of “The Shield.”

“They were really going for a male audience and had this dark show with a fairly unlikable anti-hero,” he recalls. “I think they thought, since that was working for them, that we’d be a natural fit.”

But Tolan says cablers eventually become less interested in branding and more interested in ratings. He cites the fact that “Terriers” and “Lights Out,” both critical favorites, were recently canceled by FX after one season. That probably wouldn’t have happened if they had launched when FX was just getting into the drama business.

“In the past, they’d be more willing to take their time with stuff, but now they’re in a different place, timespan-wise,” he said. “With success, there’s more pressure to maintain success.”

ABC Family
“The Nine Lives of Chloe King”
Cast: Skyler Samuels, Amy Pietz, Grey Damon, Grace Phipps, Benjamin Stone
Logline: On her 16th birthday, Chloe King developes heightened abilities and discovers she’s part of an ancient race called the Mai.
Premiere: June 14

“Hell on Wheels”
Cast: Anson Mount, Common, Dominique McElligott, Colm Meaney, Ben Esler
Logline: Western that centers on former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon, whose quest for vengeance has led him to the westward construction of the first transcontinental railroad.
Premiere: Fourth quarter 2011

“Rocco’s Dinner Party”
Cast: Rocco DiSpirito, Jes Gordon
Logline: Three highly skilled chefs have one shot at crafting the perfect evening for DiSpirito and his handpicked celebrity guests.
Premiere: June 15

“Texas Women”
Cast: Ali Dee, Anna Hunt, Hannah Helvey, Brooke Jeter
Logline: A peek into the lives of four women blazing their own trails in pursuit of love, happiness and a little fun.
Premiere: July 1

Comedy Central
Jon Benjamin Has a Van
Cast: Jon Benjamin
Logline: Benjamin brings unique takes on stories from all across America as he unwittingly becomes part of the piece he’s investigating.
Premiere: June 15

Cooking Channel
“Ching’s Chinese: San Francisco”
Cast: Ching-He Huang
Logline: Food entrepreneur Huang explores the recipes and ingredients that are central to authentic Chinese cooking and easy for any home cook to prepare.
Premiere: August

Logline: Series asks most provocative questions together with the world’s biggest names: Is there a God? Can we live forever? How would aliens attack Earth? Why is sex fun? What is the root of fear?
Premiere: Aug. 7

Disney Channel
“A.N.T. Farm”
Cast: China Anne McClain, Sierra McCormick, Jake Short, Stefanie Scott, Carlon Jeffery
Logline: Comedy revolves around an 11-year-old musical prodigy who attends high school as part of the prestigious A.N.T. (Advanced Natural Talents) program.
Premiere: June 17

“Rise Up”
Cast: Chris Spielman, Deanne Bell
Logline: Four communities come together to renovate their local high school’s athletic facilities, showcasing renovation projects from the rejuvenation of the space to the final big reveal.
Premiere: Sept. 13

“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable”
Cast: Dan Le Batard
Logline: Half-hour studio show from the creators of “Pardon the Interruption” and hosted by Le Batard, a sportswriter, television reporter and Miami radio host.
Premiere: Sept. 12

Food Network
“Tough Cookies”
Cast: Susan Adair, Linda Clark.
Logline: A squabbling and cacophonous multigenerational family that runs the famous New Jersey cookie company, Crazy Susan’s.
Premiere: July 11

Fuel TV
“Bruce Lee Lives!”
Logline: Mixed martial arts guru Bruce Lee is paid homage to with a detailed biography and interviews with the top athletes and pop-culture celebrities he influenced.
Premiere: July 13

“G4’s Proving Ground”
Cast: Ryan Dunn, Jessica Chobot
Logline: Series puts pop culture’s most iconic moments in film, television and videogames to the test with action-oriented trials, stunts and experiments to see if they can really work in the real world.
Premiere: June 14

Hallmark Channel
“William & Catherine: A Royal Romance”
Cast: Jean Smart, Victor Garber, Jane Alexander, Alice St. Clair, Dan Amboyer
Logline: Biopic on the romance between Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
Premiere: Aug. 27

Hallmark Movie Channel
“Finding a Family”
Cast: Kim Delaney, Jared Abrahamson
Logline: True story of Alex Chivescu’s fight to find foster parents so he can stay in school and fulfill his dreams of going to an Ivy League university.
Premiere: Oct. 15

Cast: Laura Dern, Luke Wilson, Diane Ladd
Logline: After a meltdown, a self-destructive woman has a spiritual awakening and becomes determined to live an enlightened life, creating havoc at home and work.
Premiere: Oct. 3

“Around the World in 80 Ways”
Cast: Rob Mariano, Dennis Anderson
Logline: A look at how to circumnavigate the globe using 80 different modes of travel .
Premiere: Fourth quarter 2011

“Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings”
Cast: Rhett McLaughlin, Link Neal
Logline: Chronicles the quest of lifelong best friends McLaughlin and Neal as they travel the country making epic local commercials for some of the nation’s most deserving local businesses.
Premiere: June 24

“Against the Wall”
Cast: Rachael Carpani, Treat Williams, Kathy Baker, Marisa Ramirez, Brandon Quinn
Logline: Loyalty is put to the test when Chicago police detective Abby Kowalski causes a rift within her blue collar family of cops after she decides to join the department’s Internal Affairs division.
Premiere: Summer

Cast: Ashley Rickards, Beau Mirchoff, Molly Tarlov, Jillian Rose Reed, Jessica Lu, Brett Davern
Logline: An irreverent look at teenage life through the eyes of 15-year-old Jenna Hamilton, whose existence begins to change when a simple accident becomes an epic misunderstanding .
Premiere: July 19

NFL Network
“NFL Biography Series”
Logline: From NFL Films, an in-depth biography series on past and present pro football personalities.
Premiere: September

“Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals”
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal
Logline: Follows the father and daughter as they reclaim their relationship after being estranged for more than 25 years.
Premiere: June 19

Cast: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin
Logline: A CIA officer is convinced that the intelligence that led to the rescue of a U.S. soldier was a setup and may be connected to an Al Qaeda plot to be carried out on American soil.
Premiere: Fall

“The Car Show”
Cast: Adam Carolla, John Salley, Dan Neil, Matt Farah
Logline: Studio-based program where everything in the automotive world is fair game.
Premiere: July 13

“Big Rich Texas”
Cast: Mothers and daughters in Dallas
Logline: Docuseries follows mothers and daughters at one of Dallas’ elite country clubs.
Premiere: July 17

Torchwood: Miracle Day
Cast: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Mekhi Phifer, Alexa Havins, Bill Pullman
Logline: How will society react when nobody on Earth dies anymore?
Premiere: July 8

Sundance Channel
“Ludo Bites America”
Cast: Ludo Lefebvre, Krissy Lefebvre
Logline: On the road to reinventing American cuisine, each episode finds chef Ludo Lefebvre and his wife, Krissy, setting up innovative pop-up restaurants at local eateries across America.
Premiere: July 19

“Surprise Homecoming”
Cast: Billy Ray Cyrus
Logline: A peek at military homecomings, paying off each personal story when a soldier returns home to the delight of loved ones.
Premiere: July 11

“Falling Skies”
Cast: Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy, Will Patton, Sarah Carter
Logline: In the devastating wake of an all-out invasion of the planet by an alien military force, ordinary people must do extraordinary things to survive.
Premiere: June 19

TV Guide Network
“Hollywood Crimes and Misdemeanors”
Logline: Four-part series looks at the headline-making crimes of Hollywood’s rich and famous, from Winona Ryder’s shoplifting to the murder of Lana Turner’s lover and the O.J. Simpson case.
Premiere: Aug. 7

TV Land
“Happily Divorced”
Cast: Fran Drescher, John Michael Higgins, Rita Moreno, Tichina Arnold, Robert Walden
Logline: Los Angeles florist re-enters the dating world after finding out her Realtor husband of 18 years is gay.
Premiere: June 15

USA Network
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Patrick J. Adams, Meghan Markle, Gina Torres, Rick Hoffman
Logline: A hotshot attorney makes a risky move hiring a brilliant college dropout in need of a second chance as his summer associate.
Premiere: June 23

“Texas Multi Mamas”
Logline: Moms of multiples join to support one another as they rear their bountiful broods.
Premiere: Aug. 16