It's not easy to predict what's going to be a hit with viewers.
Last week Syfy debuted "Sharknado," another in a long line of cheesy, low-budget cable movies, and the Internet blew up with chatter about a silly, soggy film that drew 1.4 million viewers.
That's a decent number but a lot less than you'd imagine given the online feeding frenzy. "Pawn Stars" had three times as many viewers as "Sharknado" last Thursday and last month's Syfy movie "Independence Daysaster" drew about the same ratings as "Sharknado" without the online fuss.
In 2006, Disney Channel had its own surprise hit with the movie "High School Musical," which drew 7.7 million viewers. Social media sites were not as prevalent back then, so the buzz on that production is less quantifiable. But it hasn't stopped Disney Channel from trying to repeat its success ever since. The network's latest attempt is this week's "Teen Beach Movie," which airs one night after Syfy replays its most discussed movie to date.
What is it about "Sharknado" (replays at 7 tonight) that made it such a buzz magnet?
After all, Syfy airs similar schlocky movies all the time, and they often have just as cheeky titles: "Blast Vegas" debuts tonight at 9, "Ghost Shark" airs at 9 p.m. Aug. 22. Last summer Syfy aired "Jersey Shore Shark Attack."
"Sharknado" turned out to be the perfect blend of cheesy pop culture elements, including title, stars (Ian Ziering of "90210" and Tara Reid of, um, uh, tabloid fame) and the ever-popular shark-as-adversary theme (thank "Jaws" and Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" for that).
And, of course, "Sharknado" has a ridiculous plot: Sharks get sucked up into tornadoes over the ocean and then rain down on Los Angeles, terrorizing people in flooded homes. And, spoiler alert, in the film's denouement, Mr. Ziering is swallowed by a flying shark and then chain-saws his way out of the beast.
It's unlikely any of that would have jelled to make "Sharknado" a buzz-worthy hit that prompted news coverage if not for snarky, cool-nerd commentary on social media sites, especially Twitter.
"Tomorrow I'll pick up a chain saw," tweeted actress Mia Farrow.
"I know it's only been 12 hours, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to talk about anything non-Sharknado-related again," tweeted "Lost" producer Damon Lindelof.
Last Thursday "Sharknado" generated 5,000 tweets per minute, making it Syfy's "most social telecast ever."
But, reality check, it wasn't really that big a deal: There were about 318,000 tweets about "Sharknado" last Thursday vs. 1.6 million about "Shark Week" last year or 24.1 million tweets for "Super Bowl XLVII", according to Variety.
Sometimes a piece of entertainment just strikes a chord. It comes onto the stage at just the right time with just the right ingredients to become a hit. On Wednesday, Syfy announced it will move forward with a sequel or prequel. In "Sharknado 2," flying sharks will invade Manhattan.
'Teen Beach Movie'
Of course, unexpected hits can't be easily replicated.
Although Disney Channel made three "High School Musical" movies, by the end of that franchise there was noticeably less viewer interest. A fourth entry, announced four years ago, has yet to materialize.
Disney is clearly hoping to recapture the teen pop culture conversation with "Teen Beach Movie" (8 p.m. Friday), a more entertaining, clever musical than its generic title suggests.
Teen surfing sweethearts Brady (Ross Lynch, "Austin & Ally") and McKenzie (Maia Mitchell, who brings to mind a younger Rachel Bilson) appear to drown in a monster wave only to wake up inside Brady's favorite beach movie, "Wet Side Story."
The pair try to figure out how to return to the present day even as McKenzie decries the movie musical genre they're stuck in.
"They sing for no reason and they come out of the water and their hair is completely dry," she says. "Seriously, they're singing in the ocean and never spit out water!"
Once they're inside the movie, the pair encounter a surfers vs. bikers rivalry, 12 music numbers, a mad scientist (from Pittsburgh!) and a bit of a "Back to the Future"-style time travel paradox that requires them to get surfer Tanner (Garrett Clayton) and biker chick Lela (Grace Phipps) romantically involved.
The songs, while hummable, aren't all that memorable, but the jokes about surf movies are amusing, although sure to be lost on the film's target audience.
"Teen Beach Movie," written by Vince Marcello, Mark Landry and Robert Horn and directed by Jeffrey Hornaday, goes out of its way to mock the movie musical convention of characters breaking into song but then devotes a whole song to the practice ("Can't Stop Singing," available on the movie soundtrack that's in stores now).
The end credits of "Teen Beach Movie" set the stage for a potential sequel, so Disney executives are clearly hoping the flick has franchise potential. Maybe if they add sharks ...tvradio
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.