ATX Television Fest: The Devoted Niche vs. the Casual Mass

Examining an audience's value

As the quality and quantity of television grows, the ways for a show to succeed has also increased. On Saturday, the ATX Television Festival hosted a panel to debate the merits of the devoted niche vs. a casual mass audience. While the latter has been the traditional route to success, the former is becoming more and more popular.

Phil Rosenthal, Bryan Fuller, and Kathleen McCaffrey (Photo Credit: Tammy Perez)

Kathleen McCaffrey of HBO knows something about niche. Girls, the best-known show she has developed for the network, is an exercise in harnessing the power of a devoted small audience. While the viewing numbers aren’t large (around two million per episode), its influence and coverage is outsized. It’s not just fans that make a lot of noise, but detractors as well. Every time Lena Dunham, opens her mouth, there’s a slew of haters waiting to pounce, and the echo-chamber effect on social media is deafening.

NBC’s Hannibal is a great example of a show straddling the boundary between these two propositions. Showrunner Bryan Fuller has to balance the needs of a large broadcast network with material more suited to a more adult-oriented cable channel. As season three ramps up, the experiment appears to have been a success so far.

Local Austinite Noah Hawley has been on both sides of the fence. His show My Generation was cancelled too soon and demonstrated the dangers of negotiating the waters of broadcast television. His latest project, a television adaption of the movie Fargo, has found fertile ground on FX, a network that can afford to cultivate a niche.

The biggest name on the stage was responsible for one of television’s most popular sitcoms. Phil Rosenthal created Everybody Loves Raymond, giving CBS one of its most significant successes. It is shows like this, with their seemingly eternal lives in syndication, that live off of casual fans, but as the years go by, programs like this are becoming anomalies.

Phil Rosenthal, Bryan Fuller, Kathleen McCaffrey, and Noah Hawley (Photo Credit: Tammy Perez)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More ATX Television Festival
How TV Talks About Abortion
ATX TV Fest: Her Body, Her Choice: TV's Abortion Dilemma
Showrunners wonder why shows avoid stories about a common experience

Sarah Marloff, June 11, 2018

<i>You</i> Puts a New Lens on Toxic Masculinity
ATX TV Fest: You
Lifetime screens pilot of its newest stalker drama

Danielle White, June 11, 2018

More by Rod Machen
SXSW Film Review: <i>The Wrath of Becky</i>
Film Review: The Wrath of Becky
The teenage Nazi killer is back for more bloody fun

March 12, 2023

SXSW Film Review: <i>Parachute</i>
Film Review: Parachute
Addiction and romance clash in this truthful drama

March 12, 2023


ATX Television Festival, Phil Rosenthal, Bryan Fuller, Kathleen McCaffrey, Noah Hawley, Hannibal, Fargo, Girls, Lena Dunham, ATX TV Fest 2015

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle