TV Land executives set out more than a year ago to undertake a major makeover of the cabler’s original comedy series lineup. As they dug into it, they realized that the mandate had to be much bigger than changing the tone and format of new shows.
The mission became shifting the channel’s focus from appealing to baby boomers to understanding how the Generation X demo has changed during the past decade. The first fruits of that effort have rolled out this year with the launch of single-camera comedy “Younger,” from producer Darren Star, and two shows that premiere tonight: “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and “Impastor.”
“Generation X is now at the phase of life where they have matured, they are responsible parents, but inside they still feel like rebellious teenagers,” said Kim Rosenblum, TV Land’s exec VP of marketing and creative. “That represents a huge opportunity for a brand like TV Land to find a new brand of comedy that appeals to that spirit.”
TV Land’s target demo remains adults 25-54. But the channel had been focused on drawing baby boomers for so long that it took time for it to sink in that Gen-Xers, loosely defined as those born between 1965-1980, are now in the sweet spot of adults 25-54. That led Viacom execs to dive deep into research on the single-largest demo category in the country, encompassing nearly 90 million people according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Gen-Xers are the second generation of Americans to be raised with television as a household appliance. But instead of “Leave It to Beaver” and “My Three Sons,” the demo’s seminal TV experiences are shows spanning the era of MTV and “Married With Children” through “The Simpsons” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
That understanding influenced the thinking as Keith Cox, TV Land’s exec VP of development and original programming, hunted for development prospects that would resonate. The task is especially hard with the half-hour comedies, which are a challenge for networks across the dial. TV Land had a breakout hit out of the box in 2010 as it dove into scripted originals with “Hot in Cleveland.” But the focus on broad multi-camera comedies needed a rethink as part of TV Land’s brand makeover, which began last month with the first logo change in the channel’s nearly 20-year history.
“The real question is how can we get comedies to evolve,” Cox said. “That’s the question we’re beating our heads against the wall about. You get 20 minutes. That’s not much time to make an impression.”
Cox’s focus has been bringing a touch of drama to the comedy form, with an emphasis on serialized storytelling and “OMG” moments that drive social-media buzz. The approach got TV Land some traction with its first next-generation original comedy, “Younger,” which had a successful run in the spring.
The single-camera half-hour, which has been renewed for a second season, revolves around a 40-year-old woman, played by Sutton Foster, posing as a twentysomething after she falls for a younger man. “Younger” had traction for TV Land with younger viewers, with a median age of 49, the youngest ever for a TV Land original scripted series. Its audience grew throughout the 12-episode run, finishing out with 1.1 million in live-plus-7 for the cliffhanger finale. The VOD, streaming and social stats all moved in the right direction throughout the season.
“I’m happy to put some drama in our comedies. We needed to give these new shows some freedom in the storytelling,” Cox said. “We’ve been seeing this great golden age of dramas in television. I really think that we’re going to see comedies bust out in the same way.”
“Gaffigan” brings a Gen-X voice, comedian Jim Gaffigan, to the family comedy milieu. “Impastor” offers the serialized stakes of an ex-con who finds himself impersonating a pastor in a small town and trying not to get caught. TV Land hopes that they can build on the momentum stirred by “Younger,” which wrapped its first season June 9.
Rosenblum notes that part of the brand rethink has been to take a different approach to marketing and recalibrate expectations for premiere numbers. The “Younger” experience taught them the virtue of being patient and evaluating a show’s performance over a season rather than on the overnights.
“Marketing a show today isn’t so much about screaming, ‘We’re here’ as it is about energizing people to share and talk about your show,” Rosenblum said. “People want to hear about a new show from their friends. Getting people to talk about our shows is a huge criteria.”