Tuesday, August 16, 2016
It’s all good. There are billboards for your show (well, in Los Angeles and New York). And on the stage there’s real optimism and enthusiasm.
You’re in a bubble. Now it’s just about the work.
Once the show debuts things change radically. And that can be either very good or very bad.
TV reviewers have very little impact on a show’s chances for success. It’s not like Ben Brantley of the New York Times who can personally kill a Broadway production (unless it's SPIDERMAN: THE MUSICAL). But your cast reads the reviews. And so does the network. Glowing reviews can save a show. Networks have so few shows to really be proud of. They certainly will stick with a well-received show longer than one universally panned.
And good reviews result in happy sets. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. Even mixed reviews will set off panic on the stage. Suddenly, the cast will question everything. Showrunners will be on the defensive. Cast members’ agents and managers will call and want to take meetings because they are “very concerned.” Scripts actors loved two weeks ago they now hate.
And what complicates this more is that the critics are usually right. The actors have good reason to be insecure in some cases.
Then there are the ratings. Everyone in the business KNOWS that you can’t tell whether a show will be a hit or flop based on the first one or two airings, but they forget that every September. There are always one or two shows that blaze out of the gate and steadily decline. Last year it was SUPER GIRL. I remember one season WHOOPI was heralded as “the year’s number one new comedy.” I don’t think it lasted the year. By contrast, some shows are slow to get off the blocks. CHEERS had terrible ratings its first (and best) season.
And in many cases, the cause of the good or bad ratings have nothing to do with the quality of the show. Which network, what time slot and amount of promotion are key. Known stars might open shows but not sustain them. Other more worthy shows don’t get sampled initially because they feature a cast of unknowns.
Some networks like NBC and Fox just have a bitch of a time launching comedies. Same show that bombs on NBC could have been a hit on CBS.
But the showrunner will get just as many notes.
The downside to making your show before it debuts however is that you might be going off in the wrong direction and you won’t know that until it’s too late. This is especially true with single-camera shows. It’s hard to make mid-course corrections when you’ve got eight episodes in the can. This is another reason why multi-camera shows have value. You get a preview of how the audience will receive your show. It’s not always accurate because these audiences are coming in cold and might not appreciate certain elements because they haven’t seen the previous episodes that led up to them. But you can sense if a minor character is breaking out. The audience will tell you that they like the Fonz or Alex Keaton. The showrunner must then scramble and shift emphasis, possibly even throwing out scripts. But by the time the series airs he knows he’s on the right track.
So for now enjoy being in the womb where it’s nice and warm and safe. Next month the water breaks.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM