Monday, January 20, 2014

When shows switch networks

Here’s a Friday Question that just became a Holiday Question. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everybody.

Johnny Walker asks:

On the rare occasions that shows are cancelled, but then resurrected on other networks (e.g. Taxi moving from ABC to NBC, Buffy moving from The WB to UPN, etc.) do the cast and crew get to renegotiate their contracts? Or are they still bound by the original contracts?

Usually they are, which brings up a big issue for the production company. When a show switches networks, often times the new network won’t give as great a license fee as the previous network. They know they have the studio over a barrel. So the studio, bound by contracts, might have to pony up more of their money to keep the show afloat. But the studio benefits by the additional number of episodes, especially if it is close to reaching a hundred – the magic number for syndication. So it might be worth it for the studio to pay more for the production of twenty-two episodes to complete a package of a hundred that they could sell into syndication.

On the other hand, there have been instances where another network is interested, but because of the reduced license fee, the studio decides its not fiscally feasible. I don’t know the details but HAPPY ENDINGS garnered interest in other places after ABC cancelled it but no deal was able to be reached.

What I don’t know is this: there may be some language in contracts that says if the show switches networks the production company has the option of voiding it. This could be important because the new network might only agree to pick up the show if there are some changes made.

An example would be THE TONY RANDALL SHOW that aired the first year on ABC (1976 I believe). ABC would only give an order of 13 for season two, but CBS offered 22 so they jumped. But CBS wanted a cast change, and so Devon Scott was replaced by Penny Peyser. I don’t know whether MTM (the production company) had an option on Scott or had to pay her.

If you’ve ever seen a studio contract – for anything -- it could be a standard writer’s contract for one episode – it’s long and way complicated. Good entertainment attorneys will routinely black out tons of passages and add a plethora of riders. So an actor’s contract must be incredibly complicated.

I personally am all for the trend of shows switching networks. How many good shows were cancelled too soon? How many were dumped into bad time slots where they had no chance to succeed? When another network picks up an existing show it gets the benefit of a built-in audience (albeit small otherwise it wouldn’t have been cancelled in the first place). And different networks have different expectations. A 1 share on CBS is a bomb while a 1 share on TV LAND is a hit. I guess what I’m saying is… BIG WAVE DAVE’S is still available!


Anonymous said...

Kind of a question / request for future reference... there seem to be more awards shows for movies and television than there used to be, could you give a rundown of which award shows have or should have the most meaning to the general public and/or who is actually doing the voting - people or peers or TV Guide - as I have noticed there are some award shows you will and won't watch or comment on. It's all so confusing.

Lee Goldberg said...

Switching networks can work (JAG, MATLOCK, etc)... but more often than not, the shows only last one more season (TONY RANDALL, GET SMART, BUFFY, TAXI, etc).

Twenty years ago, going into first-run syndication extended the lives of a lot of prematurely cancelled shows (IT'S A LIVING, BAYWATCH, TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT, MAMA'S FAMILY etc)

Matt said...

It probably doesn't matter whether there is a clause in their contracts, the cast and crew will be presented with a new package and if they want to keep working than they renegotiate their contracts. The new studio which is willing to produce the show has everybody over a barrel. They probably don't need the show as much as everybody else needs their jobs. A big star may have a good negotiating position, but almost nobody else will.

Anonymous said...

Related long-term contracts question: I know most actors sign four-five-six years deals at the start of a series. If characters are written off due simply to story reasons (like killing castaways on LOST - no actor misbehavior or other factors), do the series regulars get paid for their full contracts?

Bob Summers said...

Two questions for Friday:

1. Because there are really great shows doing only 13 episodes a season (runnnig 5-6 seasons), should many regular network shows switch to planning to do three or four really good years, then folding? I think it seems better than figuring out how to stretch something like CSI out until it breaks.

2. Can you talk about the inaccuracies on WKRP?

Charles H. Bryan said...

A possible Friday question follow-up: Is syndication still a big goal with shows? Is more thought given to DVD/Digital sales, or licensing for streaming services? Is there even the local market syndication money/demand that there once was (because, let's face it, Marge's and Homer's clothes will never look dated - those shows are good until the end of time)?

DonBoy said...

In partial answer to Charles' point, note this article whose url should serve as a summary:

Hamid said...

My Friday Question:

By all accounts, the 80s was a legendary decade in Hollywood for excess and wild parties, the era of Don Simpson's infamous antics. You worked on one of the biggest shows of the decade right in the heart of Hollywood at Paramount, so my question is how much of those legendary wild times did you personally witness and was it a lot of fun?

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

I feel ginchy correcting the mighty Lee Goldberg, but Buffy had two more full seasons following the network switch, not just one.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

If 100 episodes still is (apparently) the minimum number of episodes for a show to enter syndication, how is it shows like THE ADDAMS FAMILY, THE MUNSTERS, or any of those old Hanna-Barbera or Sid & Marty Krofft shows, all of which lasted well under five seasons and/or 100 episodes, end up in syndication after their initial runs? In fact, I heartell some shows, particularly animated series, only require a minimum number of 65 episodes to enter syndication.

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...


The tradition for kid shows has been 65 episodes, enough for 13 weeks of five-day-a-week showing. That covers much of your Hanna-Barbera, and Addams Family and The Munsters, if viewed that way.

Thomas Mossman said...

Perhaps the greatest exception to the syndication rule is Gidget. One season, thirty-two episodes. Perfect for weekend programming.

Mike said...

Seventeen episodes was the standard order on Saturday morning series for many years. That allowed for each episode to be shown three times in one season. The theory was that children were much more tolerant of reruns than adults.

Edsel Adams said...

You're in some pics!!!

Cunningham said...

Perhaps the greatest example of a "Jump" but not to another network was BAYWATCH.

VP81955 said...

"Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," a guilty pleasure of mine, had four seasons on ABC, then three on the WB (though it was seemingly going through the motions near the end). Hard to believe it had as long a run as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (in years, not number of episodes); in fact, by the time it ended, Melissa Joan Hart, playing the one-time "teenage" witch (the character was now in her early 20s but probably had to keep the "teenage" term somewhere to placate Archie Comics), was nearing 27 -- older than Jean Harlow was at the time of her sudden death.

gottacook said...

I was a preteen Get Smart fan, to the point of buying not one but two of the William Johnston tie-in novels, but the final (CBS) season had too many changes - dictated by the network? - and none of them were any good. The show was much less funny, in part because the Larrabee character became essentially a regular and either the actor or his lines weren't funny, in part because funny recurring characters such as Siegfried (Bernie Kopell) and Hymie the robot (Dick Gautier) were gone; they even messed around with the opening credits and the theme music arrangement, to no good effect. Perhaps if they'd left it alone, it might have lasted more than another year.

Anonymous said...

The first show I remember switching networks was Father Knows Best, moving from, I think, CBS to NBC to CBS, and lasted several more seasons. That I remembered. What I didn't know until I checked its Wikipedia, was it started as a radio show.

Steven said...

Interesting thing about the FATHER KNOWS BEST radio show is that the title was originally meant ironically. As the series was conceived, Father was something of a well-intended bumbler. A typical early episode had him jumping to the conclusion that daughter Betty was about to elope. It didn't take long, though, for FATHER KNOWS BEST to evolve into its more familiar form.

Rick Fane said...

A little off topic - saw this post by John Scalzi on his blog "Whatever" and thought you might find it interesting:

He's comparing the career of a professional writer to that of a professional baseball player.

Paul Duca said...

Lee...I think NBC picked up TAXI as part of getting CHEERS--less a sense of "You can't have one without the other", but rather to please the creative people involved.

Johnny Walker said...

Ha! Thanks a lot, Ken. It's amazing how much the business affects what we see, but how little it's talked about openly. (Although, I guess it's not that interesting to most people.)

Johnny Walker said...

@Lee, I agree that shows often seem to fail once they've switched networks, but one correction: Buffy lasted two more years and was only "cancelled" because Sarah Michelle Gellar didn't want to renew her contract.

Johnny Walker said...

One additional thought: One wonders how these new "networks" (eg. Netflix), are changing things, and what deals they're offering compared to the traditional guys.

Curt Alliaume said...

There might have been extenuating circumstances behind The Tony Randall Show, as MTM had a much better relationship with CBS than with ABC. On CBS, however, it was paired up on Saturday nights with The Jeffersons, both sitcoms but not necessarily drawing the same audiences.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Because if was a primetime animated sitcom (and the longest running before The Simpsons), The Flintstones has 166 episodes and had the best running potential in syndication.

Most other Hanna-Barbera series had shorter runs because they ran one prime time season. For Saturday morning shows, only about 17 shows were made for one season. If they get additional pickups, that means only about eight more episodes.

Scooby Doo ran for so many seasons on Saturday mornings that those 17's and 6's added up to enough to also do well in syndication.

For the Krofft shows, the H-B and Filmation cartoons that only had about 17 episodes, syndicators packaged them so that each day, a different show's episode would run. So, you'd get H.R. Pufnstuf on Monday, "Land of the Lost" on Tuesday, and so on. These umbrella packages were called things like "Fred Flintstone and Friends" and "Krofft Superstars."

The Jetsons' original 24 episodes from 1962 were so popular, they ran over and over on Saturday mornings. In 1985, Hanna-Barbera made enough new episodes to bring the total to 65. (Those new ones weren't quite as good, though.)

Some shows break the rules, like Gilligan's Island, Star Trek, The Flying Nun, The Monkees and WKRP, all with fewer than the preferred amounts yet perennial favorites anyway.

Sometimes The Munsters and The Addams Family were run in tandem because they were so compatible.

@gottacook: I loved the William Johnston Get Smart books! Remember Peaches Twelvetrees, the cryptographer ("You're a little young to be going around taking pictures of graves!"

Johnny Walker said...

Hmm. All this talk of the magic 100 episodes required for syndication. I always thought that's what Sony were aiming for with COMMUNITY, but when they brought Harmon back for Season 5, they ordered 13 episodes -- bringing the total up to 97. Is that close enough, or does it have to be 100+? If so, why didn't they order 16?

Greg D said...

Johnny Walker: as the Forbes blog post cited above by DanBoy confirms, the general standard these days for syndication is 88 episodes (not the previous 100).

Storm said...

"The first show I remember switching networks was Father Knows Best, moving from, I think, CBS to NBC to CBS, and lasted several more seasons. That I remembered. What I didn't know until I checked its Wikipedia, was it started as a radio show.

Whoa. The legendary Marv Wolfman is in this comment thread. I felt that needed to be acknowledged.

Marv, you rule, in case you didn't know. Thank you for "The Tomb of Dracula", Spider Woman, and the Black Cat. (I've always wanted to say that to you in person, but even back before Comic Con was a crowded mess, you were always swamped with fans!)

Much love and respect,


Anonymous said...

the general standard these days for syndication is 88 episodes

That number refers to the bare minimum needed to launch a series into syndication. For most series, that's after they've completed four seasons. Keep in mind that syndication has changed radically in the last twenty years in that it used to be very rare for a series to go into syndication until after it had completed its run in prime-time.

There was nothing magical about a series having at least 100 episodes available for syndication. Obviously, some shows that fell short of that mark did very nicely. The 100 episode figure wasn't a hard and fast rule so much as a minimum to shoot for. Most off-network sitcoms wound up being repeated Monday through Friday, and 100 episodes would carry a local station twenty weeks before they had to start repeats.

Actually, many local stations used to prefer a series that had, minimally, in the area of 130 episodes, because a series with 130 episodes aired weekdays would go six months before repeating. Broadcasters used to be more wary of repeating shows too often than they are now.

The problem with having too few episodes is that a station wound up repeating the episodes more frequently, and the more frequently shows were repeated, the more quickly they wore out. That was the problem WKRP in Cincinnati used to run into. There are only 90 episodes in the syndication package, and while the series would do well initially, the episodes repeated so frequently that viewers would end up saying, "Oh, I've seen this one," and switch to something else. The series would do well for a station, short-term, but long-term, it lacked legs.

That was always less of a problem with shows whose primary appeal was to children, like Gilligan's Island and The Munsters, as children have always tended to be more tolerant of repetition than adults.

What's changed so much in syndication is that the goal used to be to make a series last as long as possible. To maximize the number of years it would remain viable in the syndication market. These days, the goal is to milk a show's appeal for everything its worth as quickly as possible. If, in syndication, a series does achieve "perennial" status, anyway, that's fine. If not, at least you got everything you could out of it before it faded.

Keep in mind, too, that most off-network series have a relatively short shelf-life in syndication. Even off-net shows that are hits tend to fade out in five to ten years. Think of all the off-net syndicated shows you used to see all the time that have since disappeared. Relatively few shows achieve perennial status, in that relatively few maintain their popularity decade after decade, I Love Lucy probably being the classic example of this.

Mike Doran said...

I'm a '50s kid - the first real TV generation.
Back in that day, the "rules" for syndication were fairly simple - anything and everything was available.
The practice of stripping didn't come into full play until the late '60s.
Thus, producers of first-run syndie fare such as Ziv could put out stuff like Highway Patrol and Sea Hunt, one 39-episode season at a time, for weekly use (often with a sponsor attached).
Additionally, any off-network filmed series, no matter how long its run was, could be picked up for local station use - and many were.
My old TV Guides from the '50s and '60s show more than a few shows airing in off-hours that didn't have more than 13 episodes in the hopper; once-a-week worked out fine for them.
As stated above, it was only one five-a-week stripping was introduced in the late '60s that short-lived series were in effect driven from the marketplace, making large inventories mandatory for a syndie sale.
The exceptions usually have an element over and above numbers that creates saleability.
One example is The Green Hornet, which owes its TV afterlife to the simple fact that Bruce Lee is in it; all of you can come up with examples of your own.
Personally, I would greatly enjoy a return to the days when stations would have all different shows on each night of the week; things like "marathons" would be kept to a discreet minimum.
That's what I'd like.
I am not holding my breath waiting for this to happen ...

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for the enlightening comments!

Rob said...

Another Buffy correction: it was not cancelled and brought back elsewhere. Rather, UPN outbid WB for it, coughing up a reported $550k more per episode.

Storm said...

An Anonymous Yet Helpful Person said: "...The problem with having too few episodes is that a station wound up repeating the episodes more frequently, and the more frequently shows were repeated, the more quickly they wore out. That was the problem WKRP in Cincinnati used to run into. There are only 90 episodes in the syndication package, and while the series would do well initially, the episodes repeated so frequently that viewers would end up saying, "Oh, I've seen this one," and switch to something else. The series would do well for a station, short-term, but long-term, it lacked legs..."

I rather sadly noticed this recently with my beloved "Addams Family". I hadn't seen it in many years, so when AntennaTV started playing them recently, I was delighted. But they play 6-8 episodes each weekend, and they burned through them pretty fast. It had never occurred to me that there were only 64 episodes.

I've also had the funniest thing happening lately with both my husband and my best friend. I've been watching "Night Court" (Tom Reeder, are you still around? Thank you for the episode with the lovely "escaped" crazy people!) with my husband, and "Taxi" with my friend, and although neither of them have seen either show in years and years, they can and will suddenly blurt out a line as it's being said. When I laugh and ask "How the hell did you...?", they both just shrug at me and say "Sorry. I used to watch this show in repeats a LOT." Great funny sticks with you.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Unknown said...

Thank you for the article as it cleared up some misconceptions I had about why a show gets canceled on a television network and appears a another or goes onto cable network. It reminds me of how the direction of a renewal for a season 2 of the hit series, NBC Dracula could be handled. There has been no official word about a renewal as of yet but millions of fans are waiting.

I am one of the fans of the NBC Dracula drama. As it is a brilliant show and enjoyable to view. The show is genius, superbly written, and the cast of actors and actress are outstand in their performance's. The only thing I would like to see more of is Alexander Grayson aka Dracula a tad bit more demented and exhibit some super natural characteristics. Such as his eyes turning blood red, hypnotizing victims, evening changing into a bat. But to keep this series unique and give Dracula a more humanized appeal, I guess the old style special effects are not needed in this version. After all Jonathan Rhys Meyers is " much too handsome" to have his face distorted by special effects.

This Dracula character is all about the avenging his enemies, trying to get with Mina, (the updated version - reincarnated maybe? - of his wife Iona) while being posh and having a swagger, sexy with humour, and heavy with the best damn haberdashery male garments that British pound sterling could buy could buy in 1896.

I sincerely hope the show will be back in production for a second season and possibly more. It certainly does not have a tween - high school vibe. Thank goodness for that. NBC Dracula is definitely for the mature viewership. Bravo to this show for having characters that appeal to an all gender audience. Viewing the first episode caught my attention and my fondness towards the characters grew with each episode. Watching the last episode was I feeling a loss as I was watching the clock ticking away the countdown of minutes of the finale.

If NBC network does not renew this amazing show and it moves on to another network or a cable station at lease you article has helped me to understand the dynamics of it.