The Second Series Challenge


Writing in Broadcast magazine recently in his customary insightful piece about channel ratings, Stephen Price wrote the following:

“Luther’s return to BBC1 was by no means a shoo-in, as series one began well but slipped dramatically. This second series defied this gravitational logic; Tuesday’s opener was as strong as last May’s launch episode 5.6 million/25%)”.

Stephen appears genuinely baffled that this change in the natural order could occur. At Red Bee we weren’t in the least bit surprised. Why? Because our trail for the second series of Luther seemed to have caught the nation’s attention. I was interviewing candidates for a job at the time, and almost without exception they mentioned it. Dramatically shot in slow motion reverse, the trail brilliantly brought to prominence Idris Elba’s powerful on screen persona.

Clearly the channel had invested in this specially shot, high concept trail, in which the destruction of Luther’s office was off set by Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, and I would argue that the return on that investment is vindicated with those opening viewing figures.

In my experience, launching the second series of dramas actually requires more promotional investment in creativity and airtime than the first. To begin with you don’t have the initial press flurry around talent, the “shock of the new” in feature pieces and PR, and secondly “accepted wisdom” will have been established in the viewers heads around the first series – was it a slow burn, a flash in the pan, a “hard watch”, or a ‘mustn’t miss’. In fact most of the people exposed to those opinions won’t have actually seen it for themselves, and so with a second series there is a chance to break those fragile held opinions if the marketing campaign has sufficient standout.

That degree of standout can be harder to achieve using programme material – not impossible – but harder. What the Luther campaign, and previous examples that spring to mind like Mistresses, Being Human, and Ashes to Ashes managed to do, was to present a second series as unmissable, event television. As one YouTube commentator on the trailer remarked.. “So f***ing pumped” for season 2.

Stephen Price’s suggested gravitational logic would have resulted in Luther Series 2 launching with 1.5 million fewer viewers than it actually achieved, and for a public service channel or commercial broadcaster – 1.5 million extra viewers is certainly worth investing in.

Charlie Mawer, Executive Creative Director