Rapid Insights Trend: Matlock and the Case of Oscar Winners on Network TV

While many big-name film stars have gotten their starts on broadcast TV, already-established movie actors–especially of Oscar caliber–taking a lead role on a Big 4 network series has historically been less common. But that seems to be changing. A number of Oscar winners have lately been taking their talents to the small screen. CBS’s Matlock, coming later this season, will soon join this illustrious list; the show stars Kathy Bates (Oscar winner for Misery) in a reimagining of the beloved 80’s legal drama of the same name.

Here’s what you need to know about Matlock and this ongoing trend:

Vault uses index scores to describe the impact a given story/theme/element will have on specific KPIs: 
≤79 Disappointing  80-89 Challenging  90-109 Average  110-119 Promising  120+ Outstanding

What type of audience typically follows these actors to TV? 
Older women. Broadcast TV caters heavily to a female 35+ viewership, and it’s no coincidence that the actors following this path tend to fall into the same demographic. Thus, series such as So Help Me Todd (starring Marcia Gay Harden), Mr. Mayor (Holly Hunter), Life in Pieces (Dianne Wiest), The Exorcist (Geena Davis), and Alaska Daily (Hilary Swank) all skew mostly female (62-70%) and almost exclusively older (90-95% aged 35+, with the majority aged 55+), and Matlock will be no exception.

How do these series attract such high-quality actors?
They offer juicy, drama-filled roles. While still meeting broadcast TV content standards, these dramas and comedies alike manage to create nuanced, challenging characters that hit both emotional highs and lows, giving their feted stars a chance to shine: Grief (135) and Love (135) (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Mary Steenburgen), Contempt (130) and Acceptance (135) (The Thing About Pam, Renée Zellweger), Awe (125) and Fear (121) (The Exorcist, Geena Davis), Anger (122) and Optimism (118) (Life in Pieces, Dianne Wiest).

Does the Oscar winner’s involvement help generate buzz?
Generally not. While these high-caliber actors have their fans, viewers are typically more focused on a story’s specifics when deciding what they’ll talk about online. However, the inclusion of a particularly big star can sometimes boost a series; The Thing About Pam (Renée Zellweger) and Monarch (Susan Sarandon) both maxed out our social buzz meter (at 160) around their release, as their marketing campaigns focused heavily on their (temporary, in Monarch’s case) leading ladies.

What do these shows tend to have in common?
Crime-solving, workplace relationships, and a forceful matriarch. Oscar winners aside, these series typically fall in line with the general overall trends of network TV, meaning that they often showcase the Criminal Justice System (So Help Me Todd, Marcia Gay Harden; The Thing About Pam, Renée Zellweger; Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, Forest Whitaker) and play up quirky or contentious Workplace Dynamics (Mr. Mayor, Holly Hunter; Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Mary Steenburgen). When the Oscar winner in question is also playing an assertive woman in power, their show also offers up a Strong Female Protagonist (So Help Me Todd, The Thing About Pam) and/or a Strong Mother character (Monarch, Susan Sarandon).

What will be Matlock’s appeal?
Its titular character. When Kathy Bates takes the reins of the Matlock reboot, her forceful septuagenarian lawyer will be the key to both the series’ ratings and bingeability and take full advantage of her statuette-winning star power. Viewers will be drawn in by her deliciously clever Scheming (149), impressive Ambition & Drive (142), and righteous Search for the Truth (134) to expose corporate corruption and white collar criminality. As with other recent series starring female Oscar winners, the fact that she’s a Female Professional (122), in this case one seeking A New Beginning (146), will also be a top viewership driver (and more important than the show’s links to the original male-led Matlock (IP Extension, 112)).


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