Hammocking

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Hammocking is a technique used in Broadcast programming whereby an unpopular television program is scheduled between two popular ones in the hope that viewers will watch it. Public broadcasting use this as a way of promoting serious but valuable content. A strong show, followed by a weak show which then is followed by a strong show. This is especially used for new shows. Hammocking may lead to situations where even if programs remain weak, audience rating will be high.

The main theory in play is that audiences are less likely to change channels for a single time slot.

However, there is a risk. If the middle show is weak, the audience could change the channel altogether even if they “would have stayed if the two popular programs had formed a block.”[1]

Hammocking has been fairly reliable over the years. In some cases, the middle show becomes a hit. When the new show becomes just as popular, it has caught on.

Also related is the concept of Tent-pole programming, or using popular, well-established television shows scheduled in pivotal time periods to boost the ratings of the shows around them.

One example is from the 2003-2004 season. Donald Trump’s new show, The Apprentice, was placed in between Friends and ER (TV series) on NBC’s dominant Thursday night line up. “Much was made of the ratings for The Apprentice (U.S. TV series), but in truth, even in its protected spot, it lost almost 4 points compared with the Friends lead-in and 2 points compared with ER. Moreover, when moved to the unprotected Wednesday night slot, it dropped into the bottom third of the ratings.”[2]

More recently, ABC added a new show called “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23” to their Wednesday night programming.[3] It falls between “Modern Family,” a show that won five Emmys in 2011,[4] the most of any network, and “Revenge” which is a returning show.

These examples occurred during television’s prime time, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

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