Friday, April 29, 2005

Does The PTC Really Understand TV?

I got a missive a few days ago in that special little corner of my Hotmail account that I reserve for the PTC's mailing list (it's always nice when the other side sends you their plans). This time it wasn't a "buy our crap" solicitation, or a "we're so great that Time Magazine featured us in what we think is a positive light in an article about TV indecency" self-promo. It wasn't even a "boycott The Shield because it's on a lower level cable network that even kids can see (and just ignore the fact that the put it on at a time when any parent with sense would have their kids in bed dreaming even if it meant slipping tranquilizers into their Oreos) and it's full of the d--k word and the s--t word" e-alert. No this was a "save our show because it ain't indecent" missive, wrapped around a promo for the Highway to Heaven DVD set (because Michael Landon dedicated his life to giving us good wholesome programming). The show they're trying to save is Joan of Arcadia and on April 26 the PTC informed us that CBS has not yet renewed the show. In fact here's what the PTC says: "Joan of Arcadia, one of the most positive, family-affirming programs on television, is broadcasting its last show for this season and CBS has not renewed it for next year. Without a significant outpouring of public support, CBS may decide to cancel this superb show at the end of the season."

Here are a couple of news flashes for the PTC. First, very few shows have been renewed for next year. We won't know the exact composition of the network lineups until the "upfronts" where the networks reveal their lineups from next season - which for CBS happens on May 18. I suspect that the PTC knows this already of course and are just planning to inundate Les Moonves with mail so that he can't possibly refuse to renew. Second - and this is the part that I'm certain the PTC doesn't get - television isn't just about entertainment or providing "positive family-affirming programs". It is was, and always has been a business. The late Roy Thompson, at the time when he put Scottish TV on the air in Britain in 1957, called a television license "a license to print money". The job of television is to make money and the way to make money in broadcast television is to have shows that people watch so that advertisers will give you their money to to run their commercials. Based on the weekly ratings as published in the LA Times, Joan of Arcadia isn't doing that. Finishing 54th for the week of April 18-24 means that the show finished below the ending JAG, below the likely to be cancelled Blind Justice, below the "on-the-bubble" Alias. Most weeks it finishes below its timeslot competitor Dateline NBC. Logic dictates that if people aren't watching the show - and the episode that was seen on April 24 was not just a new episode but the season finale - then the advertising rates for the show are going to be lower. Business logic dictates that serious consideration should be given to cancelling the show if they have something that they think will work better in the timeslot.

I don't watch Joan of Arcadia - I tried to watch a couple of episodes in the first season, but it usually isn't a good sign when I fall asleep while watching a show - but a question that CBS undoubtedly can't answer - and the PTC undoubtedly won't answer - is why a show that was one of the most popular new shows last season and was nominated for three Emmys, is doing so poorly this season that it is being considered for cancellation.

(For the record, my best wild-ass guess is that Joan of Arcadia will be renewed but that there'll be some changes in writing and/or production, and that if it continues to slip next year CBS will drop it, but again I'm guessing.)

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