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Network Red-Headed Stepchild

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That one TV show on a network that doesn't really fit with the rest of the lineup. Maybe it's an action series on a channel full of romance, or a live action show on a cartoon channel. Whatever the case, the Network Red-Headed Stepchild is the odd man out.

This can be beneficial or extremely dangerous. If the show is culturally successful, it might be more willing to be saved by the network even if ratings drop, just to make sure that one niche is filled. But if the show gets too successful, the entire channel might start making programming that is similar, easily leading to Network Decay. If the show isn't successful at all, expect it to be Screwed by the Network. Compare to Adored by the Network.



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     Major Networks  
  • ABC: Lost was ABC's redheaded stepchild, a complex mystery/drama on a network that was increasingly making its name with sitcoms and romantic dramedies like Castle, Grey's Anatomy, Modern Family, Cougar Town and Desperate Housewives. ABC made several somewhat pathetic attempts to capitalize on Lost's success by releasing no less than half-a-dozen copycat shows over years, almost all of which aired in the timeslot after Lost. Every single one was canceled before getting a second season.
    • Major sporting events on ABC have been a redheaded stepchild since the year 2006. In just a short matter of time, ABC gave up/lost the rights to their crown jewel, Monday Night Football, the PGA Tour, the National Hockey League, and the Bowl Championship Series. To make matters worse, by September 2006, whatever sense of independent identity that ABC Sports had left was totally vanquished (really, the only reason that ABC Sports was kept around was because of union contracts) with the introduction of "ESPN on ABC" (Disney had slowly been integrating ESPN into ABC Sports since buying ABC back in 1996). As more and more big money events were crossing over to ESPN (since Disney can, with cable, exploit a dual revenue stream of ads and subscription fees), ABC's affiliates began to complain in by the end of 2009. In order to compensate these complaints, ABC and ESPN put together an ad hoc, cheaply made package on Saturday afternoons called ESPN Sports Saturday (instead of like say, bringing back the legendary Wide World of Sports which had been canceled as a stand alone anthology series around early 1998.
    • FlashForward (2009) effectively revolved around the marketing hook "if you like Lost, watch this!" ABC even made a concentrated effort to cast Lost alumni on the show and hoped the show would replace Lost once it ended in 2010. It didn't work, and speculative fiction essentially disappeared from the network until the arrival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
    • Last Man Standing could be considered one because it's a conservative leaning sitcom on the same network that brings us very liberal ones like Modern Family, Black-ish, and The Real O'Neals. When it was cancelled, many fans naturally questioned whether it was because of an anti-conservative stance taken by the network heads (it certainly wasn't low ratings; it was the network's second highest-rated sitcom at the time of its cancellation), but this was denied by network head Channing Dungey, who instead cited scheduling issues as the deciding factor. And that's all we're saying on the subject.
  • FOX: Continuing the mystery theme, Fringe was FOX's redheaded stepchild, as FOX primarily airs reality shows and cartoon comedies. Touch was one, too being a complex drama. 24 was also a redheaded stepchild in many ways, as was the famously Screwed by the Network Firefly.
  • NBC: Heroes was, like Lost, a speculative fiction mystery drama on a channel filled with primarily comedies. Chuck helped flesh out NBC's lineup, but only thanks to fan campaigns and the corporate sponsorship of Subway.
  • CBC: In the late '90s, the majority of shows were either comedies, news programs or sitcoms (with the occasional drama). Da Vinci's Inquest, about a morally grey coroner who has some questionable ethics (mixed with a large dose of Real Life Writes the Plot), was the exception to this trend, and proved to be one of CBC's biggest hits. Of course, the moment the ratings started to fizzle, the show was unceremoniously yanked off the air.
  • CTV: In the mid 90's, CTV developed and produced a sci-fi show that stood in stark contrast with their more down-to-earth programming. That show, RoboCop: The Series, was a Bowdlerised adaptation of one of the most violent films of the '80s, and was quickly cancelled after a single season due to middling ratings.
  • In its early years, UPN had Star Trek: Voyager, which, while undeniably the highest rated show on the network, failed to fit in with any other thing on its urban-oriented schedule. In its waning years, UPN had such schizophrenic schedule, that it seemed every night of the week had a red-headed step child compared to the other nights. First was Monday, with its urban and minority-oriented comedies, then Tuesday with Buffy the Vampire Slayer cult horror-drama-comedy appeal, Wednesday with Star Trek: Enterprise a similar cult hit, but for a different cult, Thursday had WWE SmackDown, and Friday had a random selection of crappy movies. It was a strange thing to behold.
  • CBS generally makes at least one attempt a year to break out of the Police Procedural mode that has dominated its drama schedule since the rise of CSI. The only one of this type of show that's even remotely succeeded is semi-serialized legal drama The Good Wife, and even then, its ratings lag far behind just about anything else that's lasted more than a year on their schedule. The fact that the network has kept it on the schedule for three seasons and counting is quite commendable, even if its scheduling (currently Sundays @ 9, against Sunday Night Football and the likes of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and that's only if the show starts on time because of football delays from the afternoon) is less so. The Price Is Right and Let's Make a Deal also stick out, as since 1993, they have been the only two network-based, daytime game shows on anyone's lineup.
  • For The CW, and to a lesser extent the WB:
    • Reba (starring Reba McEntire) fit this role during its run. While the network was lasering in on the young, hip, and urban demographic, Reba stood out as a much more traditional, conservative sitcom. The show almost didn't make the WB-to-CW jump, but when they realized the show was already renewed through season six and that the "kill fee" for cancelling the show early would have been more expensive than making a season six, they ordered a shorted 13-episode half season to fill contractual obligations and quietly ignored it as much as they could. Even some industry professionals said the show would have been a sure hit on another network.
    • The CW had zero interest in renewing its deal for WWE SmackDown once the UPN merger was done, despite garnering the network's highest ratings by a wide margin (nearly double that of the rest of the lineup). With the CW's focus at the time going squarely for mostly 16-24 year old girls and its lineup reflecting it, this meant that none of SmackDown's ratings were translating over to anything else on the network, which led to the then-CW president walking away from it.
    • Whose Line Is It Anyway? is nothing like any of the shows it is promoted with. Reviving the show has been hailed as a great decision for the network, now known mostly for drama.
  • Nieuws 2 (literally: News 2) was a Belgian news commentary program on 2BE, a network mostly known for American imports.
  • Belgian children channel Ketnet used to have a lot of programming for adults as left-over from their past as the general entertainment network BRTN TV 2 (such as Married... with Children and King of the Hill ). For the obvious reasons they stuck out like a sore thumb. Eventually the people behind the network used up a few of the national budget to create the network OP 12 as a separate entity in 2011. It however had so low ratings that the thing was dropped entirely from the network.

     Cable Networks 
  • Cartoon Network: A strong example of Network Decay, in the late 2000's, Cartoon Network tried to expand by adding some live action shows into its lineup. To the surprise of no one (except the network higher-ups), these efforts flopped, leading to the shows becoming red-headed stepchildren for the network.
    • In Cartoon Network's earliest days, The Banana Splits was aired despite being mostly live action, just with a few animated segments.
    • Unnatural History and Tower Prep provide examples of a fandom stepchild becoming a network stepchild. When the two were announced, they were written off nearly instantly because they were both live-action shows produced by Cartoon Network. Unnatural History debuted first, to middling ratings, which caused Cartoon Network to give up on Tower Prep before it even began, leaving both shows dead in the water after one season. Both shows received mixed to positive receptions and likely would have been successful if they'd aired on another network without "Cartoon" in the title.
  • Disney Channel:
    • Lizzie McGuire was the first Disney show to involve a singer as the main character who could then be marketed everywhere. It later became impossible to find a Disney show (and increasingly, a Nickelodeon show) where this is not the case.
    • Power Rangers for the entire Disney family of networks. They eventually admitted it never fit in. For example, look at the ABC Saturday morning lineup, where it was a superhero action show amongst tween sitcoms, and because it wasn't an Edutainment Show, many ABC stations pre-empted it or moved it to graveyard slots because they were embarrassed to show it. This is why Disney ultimately sold it back to Saban (the acquisition of the goldmine of more evergreen boys' properties, Marvel, likely hastened this). Of course, by the time they launched a network where it would fit in, Disney XD, they were actively trying to kill it and so didn't include it there.
    • Good Luck Charlie is a mild version. Unlike their other shows, the adults often get main plotlines, and there isn't much of a twist to the premise (family with 3 older children suddenly has a baby). Also, it was intentionally created to have Multiple Demographic Appeal so that families can watch together, as opposed to their other shows which usually don't appeal to people over the age of 16.
    • My Babysitter's a Vampire, a surprisingly dark (at least compared to the other shows on the network) supernatural dramedy - which is not made for/by Disney.
  • Nickelodeon examples:
  • Also if it's a Nickelodeon production made for their British and Australian channels, expect it to get the barest promotion possible and get the usual push-off to TeenNick within weeks in the United States because of contractual obligations. This is even though Nick's Australian productions have pretty much become a farm team for The CW, as H2O: Just Add Water was where The Vampire Diaries and The Originals star Phoebe Tonkin (and her co-star Claire Holt) came to prominence.
  • Lifetime:
    • Blood Ties was an exceptionally dark series for them, and it was a sci-fi series, which is normally way outside of Lifetime's typical wheelhouse.
    • Lifetime is trying again with Witches of East End, though considering they've been airing reruns of Charmed in syndication during the mornings, it doesn't stand out nearly as much as Blood Ties did.
    • Any of the surprisingly enjoyable horror movies like "I'll be Waiting for You" and "Legend of Lucy Keyes" they aired could count.
    • Earlier in the network's history, they aired game shows. These included Supermarket Sweep, Shop 'Til You Drop, and Debt; the last one was cancelled because it attracted more male than female viewership, which ended any game shows on the network from then on.)
  • Ironically, because of Network Decay, video game based shows like X-Play ended up being this for G4. When they were outright cancelled, G4 went into a flopped over state of stale reruns, and went off the air after a plan to rebrand it as Esquire (like the magazine) was moved to the Style network because of that network's wider distribution; ultimately Esquire Network was killed off in 2016 as NBCUniversal slimmed down their cable portfolio).
  • On HBO, True Blood is a show about vampires and the supernatural (among other things) on a network whose original programming tends toward showing gritty reality. Same for Carnivàle when it was on. Boardwalk Empire eventually took the redheaded stepchild, as it got a lot less attention than Game of Thrones or even the Adored by the Network Girls (of which the network promotes like it's no tomorrow, despite falling ratings every season that has now dropped it under a million viewers a week).
  • Long before the days of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, AMC ran Remember WENN, a half-hour Laugh Track-less dramedy about life at a 1930s radio station, filmed on 16mm and processed to look like Technicolor, so as to "fit in" with its classic movies programming. Ironically, the same executives who pushed AMC in its current direction were also responsible for the cancellation of WENN, under controversial circumstances.
  • The previously mentioned WWE Smackdown was this on Syfy as well, along with its predecessor programs on that network, the ECW revival and the initial incarnations of Wrestling/WWENXT.
  • On MTV:
    • The Real World was pretty much the first reality show to air there. The years went by, more and more variety programs were aired, with less and less focus on music. Even the returning Beavis and Butt-Head didn't escape this treatment: instead of reviewing music videos, the duo started reviewing things like Jersey Shore episodes.
    • The Hard Times of RJ Berger was the only scripted series on the channel at the time and was cancelled after two seasons. Awkward., which aired after RJ Berger was cancelled, became a lot more successful despite even less advertising.
    • The series I'm From Rolling Stone, while being a reality show, featured a realistic view of working life. It featured interns working at Rolling Stone magazine. As it was targeted to a more mature audience than MTV viewers and suffered from lack of advertising and inconsistent scheduling on the channel, it only lasted one season.
  • The NHRA (the National Hot Rod Association), the sanctioning body for drag racing in the United States, was supposed to see their events air on ESPN2 every weekend. That's wasn't really the case though; whenever there's a delayed event on the main channel and something else like a baseball or basketball game is scheduled, the NHRA was shoved off and viewers have to cross their fingers that ESPN moves it over to ESPNEWS to air in full, the ESPN2 broadcast is only a few minutes late, or that the later replay isn't pre-empted itself. In 2016, the NHRA began a new contract with Fox Sports 1 and 2; Fox announced plans to be a bit more consistent in its broadcasting of NHRA events, stating that it would broadcast live Sunday coverage from most of the events in its flagship series.
  • The 700 Club is this for Freeform (and Fox/ABC Family before it), thanks to the network being contractually forbidden to get rid of it. It also airs on places that are more of a home for it, TBN and the local stations that are willing to sell Pat Robertson a full-hour infomercial block.
  • Early in Spike TV's life, they had a block of three cartoons on an otherwise live-action lineup: Stripperella, Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon", and Gary the Rat. While all three were "adult" cartoons, they still stuck out like a sore thumb on a network that was already targeted to adult males.
    • And back when it was still The Nashville Network (TNN), the game show Top Card was the red-headed stepchild, being a fairly straightforward blackjack game show on a network otherwise targeted to Country Music audiences. Indeed, the show narrowed its' questions to be solely about music, then to be about only country music as it went on in an effort to fit in better.
    • As of 2015, Lip Sync Battle—a program in which celebrities compete against each other with increasingly elaborate lip-sync acts to popular music, has become the new redheaded stepchild of Spike as the first major product of a plan to begin downplaying its male skew. That didn't prevent the series from becoming Spike's biggest premiere ever.
  • Travel Channel's oddball was The Great Getaway Game from 1990-91. To be fair, it was still travel themed, but it remains to date the only game show aired on the network.
  • Mr. Robot on USA Network. Most of the other shows on USA are either prime time soaps or procedurals (whether medical, legal/police or otherwise), and thus are episodic shows. Mr. Robot is a heavily serialized, borderline Psychological Thriller about hacking with an Unreliable Narrator. The show almost seems like it would be more in line with the type of shows on AMC or HBO.

     British TV 
  • The British quiz show channel Challenge was lumbered with TNA Wrestling because it was previously shown on Bravo, and when Sky, who already air WWE, took over the Living TV Group, which included Bravo and Challenge, they closed Bravo down, but didn't want to put TNA on a Sky branded channel for fear of upsetting WWE. Since Living was rebranded as a Sky channel and is aimed at women anyway, Challenge was the only available home for TNA. It's completely out of place and definitely fits this trope.
  • Channel Five's unquenchable thirst for procedurals increasingly means that almost any scripted import which can't fit into that category somehow (or which isn't an Australian soap opera) is living on borrowed time. Just ask British fans of Once Upon a Time (which the channel let go despite it doing well), Breaking Bad, Everybody Hates Chris or 30 Rock.



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