Must tweet TV: ABC's #TGIT and the cultural work of programming social television

Eleanor Patterson

Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, United States

[0.1] Abstract—US television network ABC developed their "Thank God It's Thursday" (TGIT) programming block in 2014 as a prime-time schedule composed of three back-to-back dramas produced by well-known TV showrunner Shonda Rhimes. From its initial development, ABC intended TGIT to be a three-hour live viewing event, encouraged by a multipronged #TGIT Twitter campaign. I consider the industrial and cultural significance of marketing the TGIT block of programming together as a cohesive block of social TV in order to encourage and structure audience participation in live television viewing. #TGIT's form of social television developed as a result of the rise of multicultural market research. The reemergence of serialized melodrama on network television functions culturally to commodify Black femininity in order to appeal to a transracial upscale female audience.

[0.2] Keywords—Connected viewing; Grey's Anatomy; How to Get Away with Murder; Scandal; Shonda Rhimes; Social Media; Twitter

[0.3] Patterson, Eleanor. 2018. "ABC's #TGIT and the Cultural Work of Programming Social Television." In "Social TV Fandom and the Media Industries," edited by Myles McNutt, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 26.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In 2015, the social media company Twitter won an EMMY at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' (ATAS) annual Technology and Engineering Awards Ceremony. In the same year actress Viola Davis won the EMMY Award for best actress in a television drama for her portrayal of lawyer Annalise Keating in the Shonda Rhimes–produced show How to Get Away with Murder (HTGAWM) (2014–). Both of these awards are significant, albeit for different reasons. Davis's award marked the first time in American history that an African American woman had won an EMMY for best acting in a drama, while Twitter received its EMMY for "Innovation in Improving Engagement Around Television in Social Media," marking the canonization of live tweeting as a social TV strategy by the television industries.

[1.2] While Viola Davis's and Twitter's EMMYs may ostensibly seem unrelated, they are intricately connected to each other. HTGAWM debuted on ABC in the fall of 2014 as part of the network's first explicit social TV programming block "Thank God It's Thursday" (#TGIT). #TGIT was developed in the spring of 2014 as a programming block of back-to-back dramas produced by Rhimes that would be promoted as a three-hour live viewing event, a viewing practice encouraged by the network's #TGIT live tweeting campaign (O'Connell 2014). This campaign included a plan for TGIT producers, actors, and writers to have discussions with each other and with fans via live tweeting during both east coast and west coast broadcasts, a practice that continues today. ABC's strategy was tremendously successful, as, over the course of the season, the three TGIT shows combined amassed 1.3 million reactions out of 5.2 million tweets, achieved consistently high ratings, and brought the network into number one place with 18– to 49-year-old viewers (Hamedy 2014). Here I demonstrate how the development of ABC's TGIT programming block is emblematic of the ways in which social TV strategies are shaping television representations in order to revise and recommodify audiences for advertisers.

[1.3] Scheduling and promoting TV shows together as programming blocks on television is nothing new in the United States. We have seen this before on network TV with NBC's Must See TV comedy block that lasted for thirty-three years before NBC dismantled it in 2015 (Barker 2015). ABC also has a history of programming themed nightly schedules, most famously with its 1989–2000 block of family sitcoms promoted as Thank God It's Friday. However, it might seem outdated to study the significance of traditional television programming and scheduling in an era when, as Michael Curtin, Jennifer Holt, and Kevin Sanson (2014) have argued, the television industry's policies, production, and distribution practices are being fundamentally reorganized by digital technologies. The importance of traditional television networks may also seem diminished in the wake of increased television content production by premium and basic cable channels as well as streaming-video-on-demand retailers.

[1.4] However, television networks and the programming they do to create over-the-air broadcasting schedules continue to matter to television culture and audience experiences. This is because initial-run broadcasting is still the dominant way that most Americans watch television. As Nielsen (2016) reports, while time-shifting, mobile platform, and streaming retailers have certainly fragmented how audiences watch TV, 45 percent of adults' television viewing is still done via on-air broadcasting. On-air broadcasting also still commands the highest advertising prices in the television industry, which is one of the main reasons that network, cable, and satellite TV distributors remain invested in strategies that will promote live television viewing. Additionally, the hype that surrounds a popular television show's initial broadcast run can potentially translate into lucrative second window syndication deals and global licensing revenue (Birnbaum and Littleton 2016). Live television viewing thus remains a significant and valuable mode of television engagement to the industry, particularly because this is where the largest ad revenues are.

[1.5] It is for this reason that social television, or the use of social media platforms during live television viewing, has become especially valuable to television producers seeking ways to encourage audiences to watch television via linear broadcast. Social television reframes TV as a communal coviewing event where discussion and exchange through platforms like Twitter create connection among geographically dispersed audience members. As Phil Napoli (2014) has demonstrated, social media use also allows social media-focused market research firms to commodify these audiences for the industry. The development of ABC's #TGIT programming block works to demonstrate one method used by the legacy television broadcast networks to draw on cultural identity in order to harness social media and promote live television viewing during an era defined by new time-shifting and self-scheduling technologies.

[1.6] ABC's #TGIT is historically significant for several reasons. Its development has been influenced by both the industrial revaluing of strategic diversity and the rise of social TV and its use in conjunction with the melodrama genre between the early 2000s and the present moment. Additionally, #TGIT marks the first time that a TV network promoted a programming block as a live tweeting television event. #TGIT is also historically significant because this strategy has corresponded with the first time that a US prime-time network programming block has centered on Black femininity, although, as I discuss later, #TGIT draws upon that Black femininity to create transracial appeal in a way that sublimates Black feminine empowerment as a sort of universal liberated professional womanhood.

2. The racial politics of capturing audiences through television programming

[2.1] Fan labor engaging with and producing media has not gone unnoticed by the media industries; as Rukmini Pande notes, "fan communities and their labor are also increasingly seen as 'valuable' to producers as entertainment companies often seek to build (often exploitative) relationships with them" (2016, 209). And indeed, programming schedules are essentially developed by US broadcasting as network executives use a variety of tactics to normalize audiences' ongoing engagement with and attention to television in order to measure and sell that attention to advertisers (Meehan 1990). This traditional model of harnessing audience attention through live viewing has defined how television executives value audiences' engagement with television, although one could argue that audiences and their attention have never been fully disciplined by industry structures or operated in service of the industry's economic imperatives. Cultural scholars like Henry Jenkins (1992) and others have demonstrated the ways in which audiences have subverted the industrial and authorial intentions of television producers by forming interpretive communities that have drawn upon their own readings of television shows to connect with other fans, make sense of their own identities, and, as Jenkins says, "transform the experience of watching popular television into a rich and complex participatory culture" (1992, 23). In her work on the early social media platform Usenet, Nancy Baym (2000) specifically noted the ways in which fan communities have adopted online platforms to connect over geographically dispersed locations to form participatory cultures focused on television genres like soap operas.

[2.2] Thinking of audience engagement online, it is important to remember, as Lisa Nakamura has noted, that digital spaces are places where race happens because "race and racism don't disappear when bodies become virtual or electronically mediated" (2008, 1677). And as Avi Santo (2009) and Isabel Molina Guzmán (2010) have demonstrated, fans have increasingly used online spaces to form communities where they discuss and make sense of their racial identities through television and film. Kristen Warner has specifically applied these questions about race, fan cultures, and social media in her research on Rhimes's the #TGIT television show Scandal (2012–) and Black female fandom (2015a). Noting that Black women, and people of color more generally, have been largely absent from fan studies, Warner uses Scandal as a case study to make Black female television fandom visible. Scandal is significant to the history of Black feminine representation as it is the first network television show to feature a Black female lead character since ABC's detective drama Get Christie Love (1974–75) (2015a). Yet as Warner has noted, Scandal's lead character Olivia Pope may be played by African American actress Kerry Washington and may visually signify Blackness, but diegetically she is construed as racially nonspecific (2015a). However, in her studies of Black female fan discussions of Scandal, Warner argues that by debating issues like the maintenance of Black hair and reinterpreting her dialogue through "Black lady speak," "Black female fans have transformed the central Black lead, canonically drawn as normative and racially neutral, into a culturally specific Black character" (2015a, 35). Here, Warner does the important work of drawing attention to the various strategies that Black women use as cultural readers to celebrate, make sense of themselves through, and claim ownership of Black female characters like Olivia Pope. Warner's work demonstrates that online communities invested in Rhimes's work are thriving sites of participatory culture and productive labor that rearticulate and redefine Black femininity through television. As Warner (2015a), Wanzo (2015), and Pande (2016) have argued, more work needs to be done researching television fandom from an intersectional approach that accounts for race and gender, while also accounting for historically invisible nonwhite fan cultures.

[2.3] Building on this work on racialized ideas of fan engagement, my work focused on social television fandom and the media industries seeks to explicate and historicize how the television industry is attempting to structure fan engagement through social television programming in ways that attempt to redefine and commodify cultural identity from an industrial perspective. All of #TGIT's television shows are produced by the well-known African American producer Shonda Rhimes and feature multicultural casts, while the shows Scandal and HTGAWM are specifically centered on African American female lead characters. To have a network programming block defined by Black femininity is especially historic given the fact that when Scandal debuted in 2012, it was the first network prime-time drama to feature an African American woman as its main character since ABC made Get Christie Love in 1974. It is no coincidence that Black female fandom has largely been ignored in academia, as Warner (2015a) noted, during historical periods when programming executives have willfully ignored developing television centered on Black femininity. Black femininity has been sidelined both within the industry and within the institutions that study it, as, unfortunately, academia often follows the mainstream industrial narratives and news stories, as evidenced by the copious amounts of academic attention that is paid to implicitly white and masculine "quality television" shows like Hill Street Blues (1981–87), Twin Peaks (1990–91, 2017–), and The Sopranos (1999–2007), and more recently shows like Breaking Bad (2008–13). It is thus doubly important to understand how television programming functions as a process of cultural gatekeeping and to trace how current industrial social TV strategies work to redefine audiences by deploying representations of Black women.

[2.4] TV programming's cultural work is evident in the fact that Black womanhood has largely been marginalized in scripted television since the birth of network TV in the United States (Smith-Shomade 2002). The ongoing lack of television shows centered on African American female characters is not due to a lack of talented Black actresses or a dearth of screenwriters willing to tell stories about Black femininities. Rather, representation, or the lack thereof, is a product of television executives who do the work of programming television schedules and in this sense function as cultural gatekeepers whose ideas of what audiences like (or even what audiences are most valued within the industry) shape their selection of which television programs to develop. Programming is more than just the act of developing, scheduling, evaluating, or canceling a TV show's production; it is a cultural process that involves segmenting and valuing audiences by cultural identity, as well as seeking out or cultivating creative talent reflective of larger sociopolitical and economic factors (Seanz 2004, 1834). Thus, we must consider television programming a cultural process that is constantly in flux and changes as its practitioners adapt to changing market, technological, and sociocultural conditions. In the case of #TGIT, it is very much the result of ABC's response to new gendered and racialized market research.

3. #TGIT's programming block as multicultural social television for women

[3.1] ABC has been adjusting its programming in response to market research on multiculturalism over the last twenty years. However, for most of TV history, the programming schedules of the US national networks have been dominated by hegemonic masculine whiteness driven by the industrial logic that this audience was the most lucrative and valuable to advertising clients. Indeed, in the interest of developing lowest common denominator programming, that is, programming that will appeal to the broadest majority of viewers, broadcasters have generally considered broad to mean white, and they conservatively stuck to formulas and golden rules as they have cultivated new creative talent and programs. Even during moments when this logic of whiteness has been disrupted, as shows featuring nonwhite main characters like Julia (1968–71) or The Cosby Show (1984–92) were greenlit, these decisions were driven not by a sense of social justice but by the belief that these instances of nonwhiteness would cross over and attract the post–civil rights, postfeminist urban consumers that advertisers began to value more after the 1970s (Brent Zook 1999; Haggins 2007). Emerging networks like FOX, and later the WB and UPN, strategically used diversity to narrowcast nonwhite audiences by programming Black-cast sitcoms on specific evenings to differentiate themselves from the big three, however, none of these networks sustained this programming trend long term. And, in 1999, the NAACP, National Hispanic Coalition, and several other minority advocacy groups came together to stage a boycott of the networks to protest the fact that none of their new shows featured a leading nonwhite character (Braxton 1999).

[3.2] Networks responded to this and began efforts, albeit minimal, to include more minorities in their television shows. ABC specifically began holding an annual diverse casting showcase in 2001 (Goldberg 2014) and developed shows featuring nonwhite characters like The Hughleys (1998–2002) and George Lopez (2002–7). And at least from a superficial perspective, diversity has come to be a core part of ABC's brand and programming strategy over the last fifteen years. This was evident in 2014 when ABC's president at the time, Paul Lee, said, "If you look at shows now that lack diversity they feel dated because America doesn't look that way anymore. Look, it is a mission statement to reflect America. We think that's our job" (quoted in Campbell 2014). In a 2016 interview, Lee made it clear this has been a long term programming strategy when Los Angeles public radio station KPCC 89.3 asked whether ABC's diverse representations had been "intentional over the last five years, or is that a consequence of having people like Shonda Rhimes making decisions" and Lee responded, "Well, both. It's been incredibly intentional. We really made a commitment five or six years ago to have a network that reflects the country. And we're at a time when the technological change is huge, but the demographic change in America is just as real. If you're a political party, or selling cars, or in our case, if you're a big broadcast network, it's critical to reflect the country that's there" (quoted in Maloney and Horn 2016).

[3.3] ABC's multiculturalist programming strategy is evident in the slate of programs featuring multiple nonwhite characters that were developed and scheduled on the network between 2004 and the present, including Grey's Anatomy (2005–), Mistresses (2013–16), Black-ish (2014–), and Fresh Off the Boat (2015–). This programming strategy has led critics to refer to ABC as the most diverse network (Rose 2014a; Maloney and Horn 2016).Yet while we should consider this move intentional, we must also understand that this programming has appeared not only in response to public outcry demanding diversity but also as a reaction to the emergence of new gendered and racialized market research in the television industry.

[3.4] The NAACP's boycott campaign against the networks happened at the same time that market research on the increasing spending power of multicultural audiences began gaining attention in the television industries. Ad Age released the now infamous "Multicultural Report" announcing that salsa was outselling ketchup across the country, that seventy million Americans identify as nonwhite, and that this audience had an annual spending power of $900 billion (Raymond 2001). This research has been followed by other reports in the US advertising industry, including the Advertising Age report "In Plain Sight: The Black Consumer Opportunity" (2012), which reported that the spending power of Black consumers at the time was $1.038 trillion dollars, up 73 percent from 2000. Nielsen released a similar report the following year titled "Resilient, Receptive and Relevant: The African-American Consumer." These reports consistently represent the African American consumer power symbolically with images of Black women shopping, demonstrating the feminization of the African American market. This distinction is furthered by the way in which hyper-television viewing is articulated with Black femininity. The 2013 Nielsen report also outlined Black women as a significant television audience, stating "no group watches more television than African-Americans (37% more) who lean heavily toward programming that includes diverse characters and casts. Black women watch more television than their male counterparts," noting also that Black women make up 52 percent of the adult African American work force, and statistically hold higher positions of management than Black males (Nielsen 2013). Nielsen also emphasized the high adoption of smartphones and social media use among African Americans, especially Twitter ("Nielsen Launches" 2013).

[3.5] It is no coincidence that within this emergence of new market, ABC developed the #TGIT shows Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and HTGAWM. It is also significant that this population is highlighted in these market research reports as heavy social media users who often engage in social media discussions of television while watching it (Smith and Boyles 2012). #TGIT is significant in the way it combines programming blocks with social television and embedded appeals to diverse multicultural audiences. However, the integration of social media into television programming is not some organic response to Twitter's popularity but rather the result of the television industry's ongoing incorporation of digital platforms into increasing audience commodification strategies and the specific work of Twitter's media department to encourage Twitter integration into network programming.

[3.6] The television industries have a long history of experimenting with interactive platforms and social media to find ways in which these technologies can be used to increase audience engagement. NBC, Disney, and Viacom all initially created web-based entertainment sites in 1999 to expand into internet television but pulled the plug on this endeavor after the dot com bubble burst in 2001 (Fritz 2005). News Corp initially conceived of the MySpace platform as an online distribution hub for their television programming when they bought it in 2006 (Woodson 2008). And, in fact, ABC began using MySpace to promote Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives (2004–12) in 2006 (Mayberry 2006).

[3.7] ABC has been using digital platforms to engage viewers for over ten years, signing an agreement with AOL TV to host their television shows online in 2008 (Woodson 2008) and becoming the first US television network to create an app for Apple's iPad in 2010 called the ABC "WATCH" app (Graser 2014). Ongoing attempts to collaborate with new media companies become more valuable to television networks as advertisers increasingly look at social media ranking services (Napoli 2014). Dating as far back as 2008, social media television ratings, sometimes also referred as power rankings, go beyond traditional ratings to tell advertisers "viewer involvement and chatter on blogs and social networks" and "a program's cross-platform viewing performance and trends on mobile and online" (McClellan 2009). While American Idol (2002–) placed at #1 in early power ranking lists in 2008, ABC dramas Lost (2004–10) and Grey's Anatomy placed in the top ten at #2 and #5 respectively (McClellan 2009), demonstrating internally to ABC the industrial value of prime-time seriality in producing engaged loyal audiences.

[3.8] While experimenting with AOL and MySpace, much of ABC's early forays into social media were an attempt to use their own platforms like the WATCH app and For instance, before Grey's Anatomy producers ever live tweeted their thoughts about an episode on Twitter, they were posting substantial discussions about weekly episodes the day they aired on the Grey Matter blog hosted by (Levine and Littleton 2010). Indeed, the television industry's adoption of Twitter as a primary tool for engineering social television was never predetermined, natural, or seamless. Rather, it is the result of Twitter's creation of a media division, headed by Chloe Sladden from 2009 to 2014. Sladden and her team actively began approaching television producers like NBC and ABC in 2009 to encourage integrating Twitter into programming to create live social television viewing (McGirt 2010). This included designing strategies for how Twitter would be integrated into a television show in order to transform it into a live viewing event and then working to incorporate raw tweets into on-air visualized Twitter streams (McGirt 2010; Halperin 2011). Sladden sold TV producers on integrating Twitter into their programming by framing tweeting as instantaneous in-the-moment conversations, saying "'What we're seeing now is that Twitter is, in fact, about flocking audiences back to a shared experience, and that usually means a live one. If you're not watching live—and reading the comments from friends, your favorite celebrities, and even total strangers via Twitter—you're missing half the show" (quoted in McGirt 2010). In this sense, Twitter pitched itself to television producers in traditional terms that the industry valued, specifically highlighting the social media platforms' ability to restore the commodification of live viewing. Sladden and her team's outreach lead to further partnerships across the television industry, and in 2013, Twitter was integrated on-air in over 60 percent of prime-time programming (Sladden 2018).

[3.9] It is during this moment that Paul Lee became president of ABC entertainment in 2010 and began to combine connected viewing with high melodrama to create what he called "sticky TV" (Rose and Guthrie 2014). Lee's work in programming more melodramas like Grey's Anatomy comes from his belief that seriality fosters "stickiness," shows characterized by Lee as "noisy series that generate buzz and extraordinary viewer loyalty" (Adalian 2013). Stickiness is a term used in online web marketing to characterize content with the potential to be widely shared and engaged with repeatedly, in order to gain visibility and product recognition with users. It seems intentional that Lee would adapt a term traditionally used to describe online engagement and apply it to network TV programs at time when ABC programming decisions demonstrate a convergence between digital media and television content. Lee defended his programming decisions to focus on more serialized soaps in a 2013 interview with the New York Times, telling them that "serialized shows are coming into their own, because they can often charge more to advertisers on first run (because of more of an urgency to view them) and have increasing value for streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu" (quoted in Carter 2013). Thus, serialized melodrama's ability to inspire loyal viewers imagined within the industry as committed to live viewing in order to stay updated on a show's storyline became articulated with the live communal experience structured by Twitter and social television.

[3.10] We should thus understand the rise of Rhimes and the development of #TGIT as part of ABC's larger attempts to capitalize on programming that would appeal to multicultural, female viewers, especially in an era characterized by audience fragmentation and time shifting. Indeed, #TGIT is industrially significant as a model of how television programmers have developed social television to manage audience flow, yet it is also a form of social television that both centers on and disavows Black femininity in order to create a transracial audience appeal.

4. #TGIT as flow management and transracial programming

[4.1] #TGIT's development perhaps begins with the programming of Rhimes's first hit show, Grey's Anatomy, in 2004. Grey's Anatomy was initially conceived as a four-episode midseason replacement and began airing in January 2005. From the beginning, Grey's Anatomy was programmed as part of a prime-time soap opera block, initially paired with Desperate Housewives as a lead-in. ABC extended Grey's Anatomy's first season beyond four episodes and quickly renewed it for a second season when its premiere became "the most-watched mid-season replacement on television over the last thirteen years and the number one show in its time-slot" (ABC 2005). We can see how ABC's programmers understood their adaptation of the Latina-centered telenovela Ugly Betty (2006–10) as an extension of their investment in Grey's Anatomy because they moved Grey's Anatomy to Thursday nights at 9 p.m. in 2006, using it as a lead out for Ugly Betty at 8 p.m., and reconfigured their Thursday night schedule as a female-centered, prime-time soap opera block. ABC first programmed Rhimes's shows together on Thursday night in January 2009 when Grey's Anatomy spinoff Private Practice (2007–13) was moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays, and the prime-time schedule had Ugly Betty leading into Grey's Anatomy at 9 p.m. followed by Private Practice at 10 p.m. Furthermore, ABC's Thursday night prime-time programming block was technically a Rhimes's programming block in the 2010–11 season, when ABC was airing back-to-back episodes of Grey's Anatomy at 8 and 9 p.m., followed by Private Practice at 10 p.m. ABC programming executives moved Private Practice to a Tuesday night slot in order to use Grey's Anatomy as a lead-in for another new Rhimes program, Scandal, which premiered with a short eight-episode run midseason in January 2012.

[4.2] Scandal is a significant moment in the development of ABC's #TGIT because it demonstrated the industrial prowess of an intense, emotional, fast-paced narrative and the viability of a drama centered on an upper-class African American female, the powerful Washington DC public relations crisis manager, or fixer, Olivia Pope. Scandal is also an important mark in the historical development of #TGIT programming because it demonstrated the possible success of social television from an industrial perspective. Indeed, Scandal has come to be referred to as the industry standard for "must-tweet television" (McNamara 2013).

[4.3] ABC partnered with Twitter to engage with audiences live viewing from Scandal's initial debut in 2012 (T. L. Stanley 2014), and this strategy was partially responsible for Scandal's rating status in its first season as the "best retention of Grey's Anatomy's audience in 3 years," beating other network's programming during the same time slot with women aged 18 to 49 (Futon Critic 2012). Scandal has consistently achieved high social TV ratings from companies like Nielsen who measure Twitter engagement during live viewing ("Nielsen Launches" 2013). Perhaps more importantly, Scandal was the first TV show to use an on-screen hashtag, #WhoShotFitz, related to a narrative arc about the assassination attempt on the diegetic President Fitzgerald Grant (Weinstein 2014). And Scandal's success as both a form of social TV and Black female-centered programming encouraged ABC to sign Rhimes to a lucrative four-year contract and schedule their entire Thursday-night prime-time programming around a block of Rhimes-produced programs that would come to be called Thank God It's Thursday or hashtag #TGIT (Weinstein 2014).

[4.4] From its initial conception, #TGIT was designed to encourage live viewing through promotional materials promoting live tweeting during the show. This included ABC's first Tweepstakes offering to reward twenty-five lucky Twitter users who tweeted with the #TGIT hashtag during the September 25 #TGIT schedule premiere with a "Thank God It's Thursday Survival Kit" composed of T-shirts, food, and wine glasses branded by TGIT programs. Using a Twitter hashtag and creating social media content around a programming block works to encourage audience flow and engagement across all three #TGIT shows.

[4.5] In addition to its work with Twitter and the #TGIT cast and crew to promote live tweeting, ABC also created a half-hour #TGIT preview special featuring Rhimes as well as Grey's Anatomy lead Ellen Pompeo, Scandal lead Kerry Washington, and HTGAWM lead Viola Davis. This behind-the-scenes promotional video was made for affiliates, and ABC's marketing encouraged local affiliates to air it often during their open scheduling slots during the summer of 2014. This promo was done, as ABC Entertainment Group chief marketing officer Marla Provencio made clear, to create the sense of #TGIT as a "a live destination…reinforcing the idea of this as a block" (O'Connell 2014). ABC's emphasis on including local affiliates in its #TGIT promotional campaign highlights #TGIT's hybridity as a form of old and new television programming. We can thus see the combined use of social television through live tweeting strategies and programming a block of female-centered melodrama produced by known television auteur Rhimes as an attempt to use social media to engineer audience flow from Grey's Anatomy to Scandal and HTGAWM. #TGIT's success in its first season as the number one programming lineup for 18– to 49-year-old viewers (Barnes and Koblin 2016) has made it the industry model for connected viewing strategies and has led some to call Rhimes "television's savior" (Rose 2014b). However, we must also consider the cultural ramifications of producing and distributing a television schedule on network television characterized by Black femininity.

[4.6] Women are the majority audience for every broadcast network except for FOX (Carter 2013), and ABC consistently has the highest share of female viewers and the number one television program with women aged 18 to 49: Grey's Anatomy (Carter 2013; Holloway 2017). Indeed, #TGIT itself was developed intentionally as female-oriented counterprogramming to Thursday night football (Holloway 2017). And we must understand ABC's investment in melodrama and #TGIT as an attempt to double down on the success of Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy and focus on an imagined feminine audience. Thus, I think we must consider the cultural significance of creating and programming a television block targeted at women on broadcast television that is visibly and discursively centered on Black femininity.

[4.7] The decision to create programming around several main Black females has in part been the product of the television industry's revaluing of Black women as a desirable target demographic. However, I do not want to suggest that #TGIT is some sort of utopian realization of racial equality. Indeed, as Kristen Warner has argued in her in-depth study of colorblind casting on Rhimes's programs, diversity on colorblind casts is mainly skin deep, as characters are designed to be racially nonspecific, and this often results in nonwhite actors portraying characters that do not possess cultural specificity and adhere to neutral character traits that are implicitly white (Warner 2015b). Colorblindness is not a wholly structuring force on #TGIT shows, as there are moments when cultural specificity is foregrounded. For instance, Rhimes has said that the decision to cast Kerry Washington, a Black actress, was a choice driven by specific racial ideas about the character, the least of which is the fact that the show is very loosely based on the life of Black lawyer and crisis manager Judy Smith. Rhimes has also gestured to writing scenes that highlight the racial bias that someone like Olivia Pope might encounter, saying "There were certain things about that job…there were ways in which she [might] be treated that I thought were very specific to the Black experience. We did an episode where she walks into the room, and the client immediately assumes that Abby—the tall, white redhead she works with—is Olivia Pope. That's a thing that's happened to me" (quoted in Lawler 2013).

[4.8] Similarly, there are elements of HTGAWM that focus on the cultural dimensions of lead character Annalise Keating's heritage as a Southern Black women, from the minutiae of maintaining natural African American hair to Southern culture and experiences that are elevated in episodes when her mother visits from the south, or when she returns to visit her family.

[4.9] In these ways and more, #TGIT is a programming block that both centers on and disavows Black femininity, and #TGIT ultimately does the cultural work of commodifying upscale Black femininity in order to appeal to a transracial feminine audience. Jennifer Fuller uses the term transracial in her 2010 article about Blackness and cable branding to how "Blackness has been important to how cable channels market themselves, not only to Black viewers, but to predominantly white audiences, including upscale 'quality' viewers and the youth demographic (Fuller 2010, 287). #TGIT's function as transracial programming is evident in the materials that promote #TGIT as a cohesive programming block and the industrial discourse that surrounds #TGIT, as well as Rhimes's figure as an industrially and discursively construed transracial auteur.

[4.10] While Rhimes is often celebrated as a television author whose success as a Black woman has broken barriers, she herself rarely discusses racial inequality, sexism, or her identity (Warner 2015b). Indeed, within her self-presentation, Rhimes has done much to represent herself as possessing a modifier-less identity (Warner 2017). Nevertheless, there are moments when Rhimes's attempts to manage what Warner describes as her "disavowal of gender and race" rupture within broader cultural discussions of her work and identity. One key moment that emphasizes how Rhimes is racialized in popular culture occurred in 2014 when New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley began her review of HTGAWM with the sentence "When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called 'How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman'" (A. Stanley 2014). Rhimes responded to this characterization as an "angry Black woman" in a series of tweets that took Stanley to task for not knowing that while Rhimes is an executive producer of HTGAWM, the head writer, Peter Nolan, is a white male. However, in a tweet dated September 19, 2014, Rhimes also poignantly asked Stanley "how come I am not 'an angry black woman' the many times Meredith (or Addison!) [the white main characters of Rhimes shows Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice] rants?" This comment points to how Rhimes understands these characters, though raced as white in the show, as signifiers of herself because they are the product of her creativity. Here then, Rhimes becomes configured as a transracial auteur who is both made sense of as "an angry Black woman" and as the voice of white characters like Meredith Grey and Addison Montgomery, as well as the numerous Asian American, Latin@, and other ethnicities ascribed to the characters she writes and produces across her television programs.

[4.11] Similarly, Rhimes is construed as a transracial character by the industry she has become embedded within. In the 2014 upfronts, ABC President (at the time) Paul Lee dubbed Rhimes "the Charles Dickens of the 21st century…if Charles Dickens was Black and a woman" (quoted in Rose 2014b). She has also been titled "the Aaron Spelling of the new century" in recognition of the power and stature she possesses as a television auteur who dominates an entire night of programming, Spelling being one of the few showrunners who has had programming blocks centered on his work, as has Norman Lear (T. L. Stanley 2014). These references are made to convey Rhimes's prowess as a storyteller and producer, but they also demonstrate the ways in which the logics of success within the television industry have been defined in white masculine terms. And thus, these references represent the ways in which Rhimes through her success is made sense of through white masculinity.

[4.12] In addition to its programming block's emphasis on Rhimes-as-auteur, we should also see #TGIT's attempt to appeal to a transracial audience by looking at how some of the network's promotional bumpers sublimate the individual characters on each show and ask us to see the block as a whole. For instance, a thirty-second promo aired during 2016–17 midseason featured all three #TGIT lead actresses coming together to watch #TGIT themselves. The bumper begins with a shot of black high-heeled boots before cutting to a medium shot of Ellen Pompeo walking down a dimly lit hallway in a black pantsuit; her face is serious, and as she walks toward an emergency room door we hear the voice-over "I Save Lives" as it also appears in big copy across the screen. This is crosscut with parallel scenes of the leads from Scandal and HTGAWM, as we see Kerry Washington walking down a dark hall in an expensive red overcoat, with shots of designer high heels integrated between front medium shots of Washington walking confidently, her voice-over telling audiences "I run DC" reiterated through text on the screen. This is followed by a similar scene of Viola Davis, walking down a third dark hallway, presumably meant to resemble a courthouse. She is dressed in a stylish, well-cut black and white professional dress and also wears heels, and the camera moves in on her face, also serious and unmoving, as we hear Davis's voice-over say "I kill in the courtroom." These three separate vignettes are followed by a crosscut between shots of all three women from behind as they push through a doorway, and their voices mingle together in the sound track as they say "And there is only one thing that has the power to bring us all together." This is then followed by shots of someone opening a bottle of wine, and we cut to a shot of all three lead actresses sitting on a couch, pouring each other wine, and eating popcorn as Pompeo asks whether it is time to watch #TGIT, and Washington only says "now it's time" once their wine glasses are filled. The bumper ends as all three toast their glasses and become blurry as the focus shifts to text of their show's titles and an announcer tells us #TGIT returns January 19 on ABC. This promo, much like other printed ads for #TGIT and previous bumpers, asks us to see the similarities between these characters, emphasizing their power and affluence by highlighting their position as professional women at the top of their fields, their somber expressions, and their proclamations that they "save lives," "run DC," and "kill in the courtroom." The subtext is clear that beyond racial differences, these women are linked by their empowerment as career-oriented women, while their costuming and vocations specifically emphasize their shared social status as upscale and affluent women. We might see this promo as indicative of ABC's broader promotional strategies for #TGIT, as one that visually emphasizes diversity without ever fully drawing attention to or specifically discussing cultural difference.

[4.13] Lastly, #TGIT becomes transracial programming through its position within the discourse of television industry logics. For instance, Esther Franklin, executive vice president of the ad buying company Starcom, said in 2015, "What's been demonstrated by Shonda Rhimes and Empire [2015–] is that you can have something that's grounded in a multicultural sensibility that delivers a tremendous ROI" (quoted in Stilson 2015). In this sense, diversity is valuable as a transracial "sensibility" that delivers an audience commodity to television networks, and at work in this logic is the implicit message that diversity is most valuable as it translates to mainstream (i.e., white audiences) as well as appealing to minorities. And the prevalence of this logic within network broadcasting is reified by the February 2017 Nielsen report "For Us By Us? The Mainstream Appeal of Black Content." This research demonstrated that network shows like Scandal, Black-ish, and HTGAWM that feature a predominantly Black cast or a narrative centered on a Black main character have a majority of white viewers (Nielsen 2017). Thus, while #TGIT remains historically significant as the first network block of dramatic programming centered on Black female actresses and diverse ensembles and produced by a well-known African American showrunner, it is an ambivalent historical configuration that also functions, in many ways, as a continuation of the media industry's age-old practice of commodifying Black female bodies for mainstream (i.e., white) entertainment.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] #TGIT demonstrates one way in which the television networks have adopted social television strategies to attempt to recuperate live viewing and televisual flow, while also demonstrating some of the factors that influence programming changes and ways in which market trends and industry logics shape the representations we see on TV. #TGIT is culturally significant in the ways in which it reconfigures Black femininity as transracial appeal. However, as discussed earlier, programming is a process constantly in flux and ever changing as programming executives not only develop television shows and schedules but also consistently monitor their success and evaluate them in contrast to new industry trends, the challenges of working with creative talent, promotional teams, and the emergence of new technologies.

[5.2] #TGIT has not been a cohesive scheduled slate of programming since its debut in the fall of 2014. Indeed, Shondaland was only able to get Viola Davis to sign on as HTGAWM's lead by promising her a shorter fifteen-episode season, compared to the traditional network twenty-two episodes. This has led ABC to program short seasons of new shows as late-season replacements during the last hour of #TGIT's schedule, first scheduling the limited-series run of the non-Rhimes-produced American Crime (2015–17) during the back end of the 2014–15 season, and then short ten-episode seasons of a Rhimes-produced series called The Catch (2016–17) during the back end of the 2015–16 and 2016–17 seasons. #TGIT's schedule was also disrupted in the fall of 2016 to accommodate Kerry Washington's pregnancy, and ABC used its time slot for the new show Notorious (2016), a show not produced by Rhimes. It is clear that #TGIT's use as a tool for promoting a block of programming is tied to Rhimes's authorial figure because it is not used to describe or promote Thursday night schedules that included American Crime or Notorious. And both Notorious and The Catch, non-#TGIT and #TGIT branded shows scheduled on Thursday nights, have been cancelled due to low ratings, demonstrating the ruptures in industry block programming schedules.

[5.3] It might be rational to suggest that The Catch may have failed to hold audience attention because it lacked Scandal or HTGAWM's overt appeal to transracial audiences. Indeed, The Catch was centered on a star-crossed love story between a private investigator played by Marielle Enos and a conman played by Peter Krause, two white actors. However, the cast possessed the same multicultural diversity as other Rhimes shows, along with Rhimes's signature fast-paced melodramatic narrative and mix of witty dialogue, fashion, and powerful female characters. Furthermore, Rhimes's flagship program, Grey's Anatomy, driven by a white leading female character, continues to achieve high ratings and season renewals. And, while building more diversity into The Catch may have helped its success, The Catch's failure to fulfill #TGIT's social television programming expectations may have been the result of promotional shortfallings, uneven narrative pacing, or the challenges of maintaining short seasons of serialized programs on network television.

[5.4] Amidst these scheduling trials and tribulations, it is uncertain whether ABC will continue to devote its regular season Thursday to #TGIT. #TGIT's fall 2017 schedule marked a return to its original slate of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and HTGAWM, although this will end at the conclusion of the 2017–18 season as it has been confirmed that this will be Scandal's last year (Wagmeister 2017). Shonda Rhimes recently announced that she signed a new development contract with Netflix but will continue to produce the shows still in production and in the pipeline at ABC Studios, including a Grey's Anatomy spinoff (Wallenstein 2017). In fact, as Rhimes's new contract with Netflix was announced, ABC's entertainment president Channing Dungey told fans that such shows would continue to be a centerpiece of ABC's schedule (Wallenstein 2017). Which shows are featured in this schedule, and whether they are produced by Rhimes or feature a Black female lead remains to be seen. Thus, while ABC's experiment in social television programming blocks has been successful in the industrial sense, it will continue to fluctuate and operate in response to labor shifts, technological developments, and industrial logics. ABC president Ben Sherwood has been moving the network away from serialized programming. And Dungey has been working to rebrand ABC toward more procedural programming, saying to the Television Critics Association in fall 2016, "In this binging culture, there's something about serialized dramas that really compels people. But I would like to see more closed-ended procedurals on the network, particularly because we have to schedule 35 weeks in a year, and it's nice because with a procedural you can do 22 episodes and they generally repeat really well" (quoted in Andreeva 2016). However, these shows have less of an explicit connection to social media than serialized sticky melodrama previously invested in by former ABC President Paul Lee, and Dungey's statement demonstrates some of the ongoing tensions and fluctuations that impact programming social television.

[5.5] Herman Gray (2005) has suggested that Black audiences and Black representations have become valuable to television programmers at different historical moments, such as the mid-1980s or early 1990s, but that this investment has never been sustained and valued long term. ABC's reinvestment in multicultural programming has been tied to multiple historical, industrial, and technological factors, the least of which is the redefinition of Black women as a tech savvy and valuable market demographic. As ABC and network television attempts to use strategies like social television to remain relevant in the postnetwork era, it remains to be seen what larger historical impact #TGIT will have on television programming more broadly and whether current investments in diverse representations will continue or perhaps be expanded and deepened on network television. Certainly, we can look at examples of Black-cast and multicultural network melodramas like Empire to see some of #TGIT's effect on network programming. And, while Rhimes is not the first Black female showrunner in US television, her visibility has, in part, worked to redefine what it means to be a television producer, whether or not Rhimes acknowledges the larger cultural distinctions of being a Black female showrunner in Hollywood. Yet this increased elevation of Black femininity is ambivalent, as the representations we see in #TGIT are produced as part of a broad social television programming strategy that attempts to commodify and sublimate racial difference for a transracial audience. In this moment when racial difference becomes incorporated and valued within new configurations of the network commodity audience, the struggle for increased representation may become dependent upon network television's ability to retain proven talent like Rhimes in the wake of a push for original productions by streaming retailers like Netflix that often offer greater creative freedom to showrunners during production. As we continue to investigate the ongoing relationship between television, social media, and cultural identity, much more work needs to be done on the ways in which the industry is attempting to structure audience engagement and the historical and political factors that shape these negotiations.

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