Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Why are some shows cancelled so soon?
Joseph Scarbrough posed it:
In the old days, a network would wait until the end of the inaugural run of a new series to determine its ratings, and whether or not the series would be renewed (in other words, if a first season was successful, that would at least ensure a second season); nowadays, it's as if networks feel if seemingly nobody is watching after two episodes, they'll go ahead and cancel. Why? That seems like a waste of everybody's time (especially those who made the show), not to mention, how do they figure a few episodes of a brand new show is going to be enough to bring in huge ratings? That's not even enough time for an audience to invest in the series, let alone build up an audience for it.
First off, it’s always been like that. There was a show in the early ‘70s called TURN ON that was cancelled after one airing. Some Heather Graham thing, EMILY'S REASONS WHY NOT received the same fate six years ago. There was a show on the NBC schedule in the late ‘70s called SNIP that the network ultimately never even aired – despite my partner and I almost being hired to write one. (Or maybe that’s why it cancelled.)
With so many viewing options these days networks feel they don’t have the luxury of time anymore. Especially on shows they fall out of love with or never believed in in the first place. (Why would they put on a show they don’t believe in? Commitments, testing, it has a piece of desired talent, they have nothing better.) The second the network feels a show is dead they now yank it. Why throw good money after bad?
If, however, the network believes in the show they will tend to stick with it. We’re seeing that this year with THE MINDY PROJECT, BEN AND KATE, and THE NEW NORMAL.
Will they be rewarded? Sometimes yes, you get CHEERS. Sometimes no. How many chances did CHUCK get? (Now CHUCK fans may be up in arms, but the truth is it never found a large enough audience.)
The other thing that makes it difficult to determine what is a hit is that today’s definition is so cloudy. The numbers shows like BEN AND KATE are getting are awful. But do they hold onto enough the desired demo? Do they tonally fit into the night? Are they critical darling so there’s some prestige value in staying with them despite bleak ratings? Look, the bottom line is if a network wants to keep something it can justify it fifteen different ways; if it doesn’t it can find fifteen equally compelling arguments to cancel it.
Remember too, we're now in November Sweeps. Although they aren't as crucial as they once were, they still are important so networks tend to shuttle shows off the schedule they know will pull them down.
And then there are the unfortunate series that are cancelled simply because they're collateral damage.
In 1996 our show ALMOST PERFECT was renewed but more because of business considerations. We were given a dreadful time slot – right behind a new Bochco comedy (that's right -- comedy) called PUBLIC MORALS. When another new show on the schedule wasn’t ready to premiere they put us in a different time slot to start the season and we won our time slot both weeks. Then they went to the normal schedule and we were behind the debuting PUBLIC MORALS.
The overnights for their premiere were abysmal. And they pulled our numbers way down too. Les Moonves cancelled us both. Just like that. Why did we get the axe? Because he decided to drop the whole notion of comedies in that hour. He threw on a drama instead and there was no room for us. Les told me later that “ALMOST PERFECT was the best show he ever cancelled.” On the one hand that's gratifying to hear, but on the other it's like the girl you were most in love with saying to you, “You’re the greatest guy I never slept with.”
But ALMOST PERFECT was an inherited show (developed and put on the schedule by the previous regime) and not owned by the network. Today, if CBS owned the show and there were already 34 episodes in the can they would find places to keep it on their schedule.
Still, at the end of the day – that’s television. As they said in GODFATHER II: “This is the business we chose.”