Monday, November 21, 2011
My heart goes out to producers. Mounting a hit show was always next to impossible. Now it’s damn near impossible. Too many other channels, too many other options. You’ve got to grab an audience right away. And that game plan does not always lead to the best television shows.
The feature world is now built on that strategy. All Hollywood studios really care about is whether their movies open, whether they have big first weekends. That’s where they make most of their money, over that initial three-day stretch. So movies have to be splashy, they have to hook you in with big stars, or big explosions, or Shrek for the ninth time. A movie can be bad but if it’s marketed well, if the trailer is decent, or the big stars agree to go on Letterman to promote it, studios can profit off a turd. So what if no one shows up the second weekend? They’ve already got their payday.
But here’s the thing – in television for a show to make money you have to come back. Not just once but every week… for years. No one gets away with hit & run accidents in television.
Network presidents are in a bind. If a show struggles out of the gate, is it worth sticking with because like CHEERS and HILLSTREET BLUES it sometimes takes time to find your stride and audience? Or are you throwing good money after bad. Just like studios will never make MARS NEEDS MOMS II, why should they shell out the money for PLAYBOY CLUB XIV? And only developing shows to hit home runs out of the gate often leads to disaster when viewers don’t return. Things get GRIMM, so to speak.
That’s why every year freshman shows that the networks promote in October as “America’s #1 New Comedy” and “America’s #1 New Drama” get canceled by January. Meanwhile, the producers of BAD TEACHER are all in Hawaii celebrating.
So bringing it back to you – or more specifically, me (but you again soon): I program my own network. Thank you (semi) trusty DVR. I have season passes for certain shows. I have my “must see” shows like THE GOOD WIFE and “sure, why not?” shows like CSI now that Ted Danson is on it. I have my comedy nights if I’m in the mood, my movie nights when a title strikes my fancy. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the time slots of most of the shows I watch. I think PARKS & REC is on Thursday but don’t hold me to it. All I know is that it’s there on the weekend. LOST was the last series I had to watch the night it was on. And before that, INSTANT BEAUTY PAGENT. But other than that, unless it’s a sporting event, I’m catching it on my schedule.
Or canceling it.
I set season passes for quite a few new series, and one by one this year I have canceled them. I beat NBC by a week on FREE AGENTS. UNFORGETTABLE (excuse me… THE REMEMBERER) was zotzed week two. PAN AM lasted three weeks. PERSON OF INTEREST just went bye-bye this week. (That lead is not Christian Bale no matter how much they try to make him Christian Bale). Actually, the only new series that remains is ONCE UPON A TIME. And so my average is about what a regular network’s is – I keep approximately one out of ten.
Same with COMMUNITY. I know fans are outraged that NBC put it “on hiatus” (read: kiss of death), but it just got too uneven for me. I appreciate how innovative and ambitious the show is, but with each format-bending episode I cared less and less about the characters, and if I’m not invested in the characters, ultimately I go away.
I was ahead of the pack on leaving GLEE. More and more Gleeks or Gleeniacs or whatever they call themselves now add an “ex” to the front of their title. And patients are coming in with Klingon diseases now on HOUSE. I don’t remember exactly when I canceled HOUSE but Cutthroat Bitch has been in three series since.
I imagine HAWAII 5-0 is the leading show that has been canceled over the last two years. And everyone who does says the same thing: “How did I keep this as long as I did?”
So now I throw it back to you. I’m curious. What shows have you canceled on your "network" and why? This will be less accurate than a Nielson survey but I bet way more fun. Thanks.
By Ken Levine at 5:55 AM