Why It's Good That Networks Are Quick To Cancel Low-Rated New Shows
by Gary Susman, posted Oct 4th 2010 5:20PM
But maybe it's a good thing that the networks are quick on the draw and not willing to coddle shows that can't survive the Darwinian fall schedule without help. Maybe it's actually merciful, not merciless, to euthanize shows that fail the sink-or-swim test. Maybe it's actually the smart thing to do, both from a business perspective and for TV fans as well.
From a strictly bottom-line standpoint, it makes sense to cancel little-watched shows sooner rather than later. That way, the networks don't throw good money after bad, and they free up cash to commit to other new shows.
Sure, they could wait to see if ratings improve, or shuffle the shows to different nights, but when programs are barely mustering a 1.1 Nielsen rating, they're pretty much dead in the water and beyond hope. Why drag out the inevitable? At least in the case of the now-absent 'Lone Star,' Fox can bring back a show already proven in that Monday 9PM timeslot, 'Lie to Me.'
Plus, a flailing show can drag down a network's entire evening.In the case of 'My Generation,' which aired Thursdays at 8PM, it wasn't providing any lead-in support to 'Grey's Anatomy' or 'Private Practice.' Fortunately, those veteran shows are strong enough to survive on their own, but viewers who aren't watching at 8PM can't be counted on to tune in at 9PM.
And at least the networks can turn these debacles into a learning experience. For instance, on Mondays at 9, Fox viewers who've just watched 'House' are still in the mood for a procedural with a prickly protagonist (hence 'Lie to Me'), not an old-fashioned nighttime soap. Or with 'My Generation,' which was going up against NBC's Thursday night comedies: CBS' strategy was to counter with even stronger comedy, by moving 'The Big Bang Theory' over from Mondays. That's clearly been a more successful tactic than ABC counter-programming with a convention-challenging, format-stretching drama.
The biggest lesson, of course, for networks and series creators, is that they have to work extra hard these days to grab our attention. Especially in the age of DVRs, a show really has to stand out in order to become live appointment viewing and not something to save for later. 'Lone Star' had a unique premise (con man trying to get out of the game and torn between two women in different towns who are unaware of each other), while 'My Generation' had a unique format (high school classmates from a decade ago, seen then and now), but even those qualities weren't enough to make the shows stand out. There has to be a hook that grabs viewers, and with neither show's marketers able to explain what that hook was in a simple 30-second spot, 'Lone Star' and 'My Generation' were both pretty much doomed out of the gate.
"I think you can't underestimate how truly competitive this environment is," said 'My Generation' executive producer Warren Littlefield, quoted in today's Variety. "The technology allowed us to really ignore network schedules and watch TV when we wanted to. We live in a world where the average home has over 100 choices. To break through and solidify your place is extremely difficult."
Littlefield knows from experience what it's like for a network executive to decide to kill a show off early, since he ran NBC in the 1990s. "I don't think anybody realized how difficult it would be to go up against four established shows," he told Variety. "I'm disappointed we couldn't be there to build an audience, but I do have a memory of what it's like and the pressures you face running a network, and the threshold number you have to deliver."
But what about from the viewers' standpoint? As a TV fan, I confess that I never watched either 'Lone Star' or 'My Generation,' but if I had, I'd be irked now that I spent four hours of my life on these shows that I'd never get back. Since I didn't, I'm relieved, and now I can erase them off my DVR without guilt. It's really hard, with the plethora of new shows all debuting at once, to decide which ones will be worth your time and emotional investment. I don't really mind that someone else has now made that decision easier.
Yes, given time, 'Lone Star' might have evolved into an Emmy-worthy drama, and it's a pity that can't happen now, but 'My Generation' was already on TV Squad critic Maureen Ryan's list of the five worst new fall shows, and I don't imagine many will mourn its demise. Nor will many mourn NBC's 'Outlaw' or ABC's 'The Whole Truth' if (as widely predicted) they're the next new shows to face the ax. Sometimes it really is all about quality control.
But even with a good-but-troubled show, better to cancel it early. Four years ago, NBC had a series called 'Kidnapped' that was supposed to follow a single abduction case over the course of each season. NBC aired five episodes before pulling the show, so viewers were much more involved in the central mystery. As a 'Kidnapped' viewer, I was already pretty invested in the show when it was yanked off the air, but I wouldn't have cared so much if I'd seen only two episodes before losing the show. (Months later, NBC burned off the remaining episodes, with little fanfare, in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. Thanks for nothing, Peacock.)
So as a beleaguered TV fan trying to choose which of the countless new shows to watch and become invested in, I thank you, Fox and ABC, for ripping off the Band-Aid instead of prolonging the agony, and for making my decision easier. My overstuffed DVR hard drive thanks you as well.
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.