After a long day at work, most people like to come home, have their supper, and turn on the TV. Networks know that more people are home in the evenings and looking for something good to watch on TV, so they save their best shows for the slots between 7pm and midnight. This time period is known as prime time to TV insiders. If you're wondering how shows get picked for prime time, read on for more about how networks think.
When networks are looking for shows to fill their prime time slots, they're usually interested in half hour comedies, one hour dramas, and reality shows. Reality shows are most popular with cable channels that have limited budgets, as they're much cheaper to make than a staged show. Each reality show has its own gimmick, such as an antiques expert looking for valuable seascape art in people's attic (Antiques Roadshow) or a group of average people in a survival situation competing to win money (Survivor). The broader the appeal, the more likely a network will pick it up. Another style popular with viewers is reality tv shows. Some might watch a young woman get the final rose from a bachelor and others will watch a fashion designer compete along with other hopefuls for a retail deal. You may not find clothing trends interesting, but a fashion forward company like Hunter and Shaye certainly would.
With comedies, most networks are still trying to replicate the success of Friends and Seinfeld, and will tend to choose sitcoms where a group of friends struggle to cope with their relationships (such as Cougar Town or How I Met Your Mother). But more forward thinking networks have also found success with more unique programming by moving shows out of the typical issues. The dry docu-sitcom The Office, the dysfunctional Modern Family, and the nerd themed Big Bang Theory are all very popular.
But it is still the one hour dramas that anchor a network's prime time slots. Crime is and has always been big with investigative shows moving out of the "who killed who" territory and into forensic science (CSI, Bones) and gimmicky partnering such as a cop and a writer (Castle) or a doctor and a savant (Sherlock). Other popular shows involve urban fantasy (The Vampire Diaries, Once Upon a Time) or medical drama (Grey's Anatomy, House, Nurse Jacky).
Popular shows are played during evening prime time, with the most valuable days being Sunday to Thursday. Ad slots during these times are the network's prime earners. Too many people go out on Friday and Saturday nights, so if your favorite show gets bumped to these days, it's in danger of being cut. New shows generally get only about six episodes to prove themselves, so if you have to run out while your show is on, tape it on your PVR or watch it online later so the network knows you like it.