Whether due to a particularly breezy pace or a distinctly sunny setting, many summer series become permanently connected with the season in which they premiere. This sort of seasonal synergy can result in summer success, but it also promotes a rigidity that threatens series which extend beyond their summer roots in subsequent years.
USA Network's Royal Pains (see Slide #2) is by necessity a show about summer: its premise, a concierge doctor who caters to both rich and poor patients in the Hamptons, would be impossible in other seasons, when the rich would be away from their summer homes. It is so connected to the season, in fact, that USA has been unwilling to schedule it at any other time: the series is the only original series in USA’s lineup which is exclusively scheduled during the summer season.
Burn Notice, which USA schedules in both summer and winter, is more seasonally neutral, but its ratings (see Slide #3) suffer when airing outside of its initial summer home. Its third season averaged 6.17 million live viewers in its summer episodes, but dropped to an average of 4.63 million when it returned in the winter. With increased competition, “summer shows” like Burn Notice are devalued, the same qualities which make them so synonymous with summer becoming a liability when compared with series “worthy” of being scheduled in the traditional television season.
However, this sort of rigid hierarchy has not always been the rule within television: Beverly Hills, 90210 started its second and third seasons in July during the early 1990s, while Survivor and The O.C. began as summer programming before transitioning into the fall/winter model. Summer was a space in which to find a foothold, to capture viewers during a less competitive period and then hopefully hold onto them in the following seasons, which USA has been quite successful with.
Series which work in the summer should work in other seasons: what seems synergistic in July would simply seem escapist in January. However, network resistance to true year-round scheduling (which is lessening somewhat – see Slide #4) leads to seasonal typecasting of those shows which debut in the summer months, which sits in direct opposition to the open access created by DVRs, DVDs and On Demand or online viewing.