Fox is going back to the Futurama, ordering 26 new episodes of the quirky cartoon – which drew a niche audience for its first run, but seemed far to narrow in its appeal to stick on a network schedule. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is the second time Fox has done this – the first time being for Family Guy.
Though it’s a hit now, seven years ago Family Guy was in and out of the Fox schedule, bounced around to different nights, and eventually drummed off the air. But Family Guy found a new audience on cable, online (as college students and others with high speed connections downloaded episodes) and eventually on DVD.
Futurama followed the same path. After being bounced from Fox’s Sunday night animation block, it found a home on the Cartoon Network, grew into a hit, and was eventually brought back to network TV.
Does this mean TV networks need to change their models of success? Obviously, both Family Guy and Futurama have a devoted audience, but took some time to find them. And when they did, those audiences weren’t watching network TV during prime time – they were watching cable between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.
Network TV is learning a lesson that marketers have – or should have – learned for decades: know where your audience is, and go there.