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That one TV show on a network that doesn't really fit with the rest of the lineup. Maybe it's an action series on a channel full of romance, or a live action show on a cartoon channel. Whatever the case, the Network Red Headed Stepchild is the odd man out.

This can be beneficial or extremely dangerous. If the show is culturally successful, it might be more willing to be saved by the network even if ratings drop, just to make sure that one niche is filled. But if the show gets too successful, the entire channel might start making programming that is similar, easily leading to Network Decay. If the show isn't successful at all, expect it to be Screwed by the Network.

Examples of Network Red Headed Stepchild include:

Major Networks

  • ABC: Lost was ABC's redheaded stepchild, a complex mystery/drama on a network that was increasingly making its name with sitcoms and romantic dramedies like Grey's Anatomy, Modern Family, Cougar Town and Desperate Housewives. ABC made several somewhat pathetic attempts to capitalize on Lost's success by releasing no less than half-a-dozen copycat shows over the past five years, almost all of which aired in the timeslot after Lost. Every single one was canceled before getting a second season.
    • Major sporting events on ABC have been a redheaded stepchild since the year 2006. In just a short matter of time, ABC gave up/lost the rights to their crown jewel, Monday Night Football, the PGA Tour, the National Hockey League, and the Bowl Championship Series. To make matters worse, by September 2006, whatever sense of independent identity that ABC Sports had left was totally vanquished (really, the only reason that ABC Sports was kept around was because of union contracts) with the introduction of "ESPN on ABC" (Disney had slowly been integrating ESPN into ABC Sports since buying ABC back in 1996). As more and more big money events were crossing over to ESPN (since Disney can, with cable, exploit a dual revenue stream of ads and subscription fees), ABC's affiliates began to complain in by the end of 2009. In order to compensate these complaints, ABC and ESPN put together an ad hoc, cheaply made package on Saturday afternoons (instead of like say, bringing back the legendary Wide World of Sports (which had been canceled as a stand alone, anthology series around early 1998) series for a new generation) called ESPN Sports Saturday.
    • Flash Forward effectively revolved around the marketing hook "if you like Lost, watch this!" ABC even made a concentrated effort to cast Lost alumni on the show and hoped the show would replace Lost once it ended in 2010. It didn't work.
  • Fox: Continuing the mystery theme, Fringe is currently FOX's redheaded stepchild, as FOX primarily airs reality shows and cartoon comedies. 24 was also a redheaded stepchild in many ways.
  • NBC: Heroes was, like Lost, a mystery drama on a channel filled with primarily comedies. Recently, Chuck has helped flesh out NBC's lineup as well.
  • CBC: In the late '90s, the majority of shows were either comedies, news programs or sitcoms (with the occasional drama). Da Vincis Inquest, about a morally grey coroner who has some questionable ethics (mixed with a large dose of Real Life Writes the Plot), was the exception to this trend, and proved to be one of CBC's biggest hits. Of course, the moment the ratings started to fizzle, the show was unceremoniously yanked off the air.
  • CTV: In the mid 90's, CTV developed and produced a sci-fi show that stood in stark contrast with their more down-to-earth programming. That show, RoboCop: The Series, was a Bowdlerised adaptation of one of the most violent films of the 80's, and was quickly cancelled after a single season due to middling ratings.
  • In it's early years, UPN had Star Trek: Voyager, which, while undeniably the highest rated show on the network, failed to fit in with any other thing on its urban-oriented schedule. In its waning years, UPN had such schizophrenic schedule, that it seemed every night of the week had a red-headed step child compared to the other nights. First was Monday, with it's urban and minority-oriented comedies, then Tuesday with Buffy the Vampire Slayer cult horror-drama-comedy appeal, Wednesday with Star Trek: Enterprise a similar cult hit, but for a different cult, Thursday had WWE Smackdown, and Friday had a random selection of crappy movies. It was a strange thing to behold.

Cable Networks

  • Cartoon Network: A strong example of Network Decay, Cartoon Network is now regularly showing some live action shows in its lineup. But years ago, the rare live-action show would be a redheaded stepchild on Cartoon Network.
    • In Cartoon Network's earliest days, The Banana Splits was aired despite being mostly live action, just with a few animated segments.
  • Disney Channel: Lizzie McGuire was the first Disney show to involve a singer as the main character who could then be marketed everywhere. Now, it's impossible to find a Disney show (and increasingly, a Nickelodeon show) where this is not the case.
    • Strangely, there's a new Network Red Headed Stepchild on Disney Channel, Phineas and Ferb. Why? Because it's animated. That's right, an animated show is the odd one out on the Disney Channel.
      • It's also the only decent, non-sitcom show that adults can watch without rolling their eyes at every joke.
      • The songs are an Ear Worm half the time, too.
    • And before either of those two, we had Gargoyles.
    • Power Rangers for the entire Disney family of networks. They recently admitted it never fit in. For example, look at the ABC Saturday morning lineup, where it was a superhero action show amongst tween sitcoms. This is why Disney ultimately sold it back to Saban.
    • Arguably, Good Luck Charlie is a mild version. Unlike their other shows, the adults often get main plotlines, and there isn't much of a twist to the premise (family with 3 older children suddenly has a baby). Also, it was intentionally created to have Multiple Demographic Appeal so that families can watch together, as opposed to their other shows which usually don't appeal to people over the age of 16.
    • And now we have My Babysitter's a Vampire, a surprisingly dark (at least compared to the other shows on the network) supernatural Dramedy.
  • Lifetime: Blood Ties was an exceptionally dark series for them.
    • Not so much because it was dark, some of their movies can get pretty intense (when not knee-slapping hilarious), more because it was a supernatural show. It would have done a lot better on a network with either a sci-fi or action slant, not sappy, romantic Lifetime.
  • Ironically, because of Network Decay, video game based shows like X-Play are now this for G4.
  • On HBO, True Blood is a show about vampires and the supernatural (among other things) on a network whose original programming tends toward showing gritty reality. Ditto for Carnivale when it was on.
  • Long before the days of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, AMC ran Remember WENN, a half-hour Laugh Track-less Dramedy about life at a 1930s radio station, filmed on 16mm and processed to look like Technicolor, so as to "fit in" with its classic movies programming.
  • WWE Smackdown has been this on every channel it's appeared on, though it tends to bring in consistently superb ratings. Despite that, The CW eventually dumped the show because of this trope. Now it's on Sy Fy, which is decaying now anyway and had previously aired WWE's version of ECW.
  • On MTV, The Real World was pretty much the first reality show to air there. The years went by, more and more variety programs were aired, with less and less focus on... well, music. Even the returning Beavis and Butthead didn't escape this treatment: instead of reviewing music videos, the duo now reviews things like Jersey Shore episodes.
    • Speaking of Beavis and Butt-Head, while some may think of it as another redheaded stepchild of MTV and hold it responsible for opening the network's doors for other cartoons (like the cel-shaded Spider-Man series), the very music reviews kept them into the network's scope back on the day. The others that came later just missed the point.
  • The 700 Club is this for ABC Family (and Fox Family before it), thanks to the network being contractually forbidden to get rid of it.

British TV

  • The British quiz show channel Challenge was lumbered with TNA Wrestling because it was previously shown on Bravo, and when Sky, who already air WWE, took over the Living TV Group, which included Bravo and Challenge, they closed Bravo down, but didn't want to put TNA on a Sky branded channel for fear of upsetting WWE. Since Living was rebranded as a Sky channel and is aimed at women anyway, Challenge was the only available home for TNA. It's completely out of place and definitely fits this trope.
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