Sunday, December 28, 2008

On The Second Day Of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas my true love – television – gave to me....two cancelled shows.

This piece isn't going to be as long as I had planned on it being. Word ate the original posting. I know I had saved it – in fact there's a nice file titled On The Second Day Of Christmas
on my list of recently worked on Word files. Too bad it links to a blank page. (Almost as bad as the fact that I'm a day of Christmas behind – I didn't count Christmas Day itself as a day of Christmas and even if I did I was nowhere where I could post so...) So basically what I'm going to do is give you the Readers Digest condensed version of the part of the post that I had actually finished when this poxy program lost what I had written.

While there have been a number of series cancelled in the 2008-09 season so far, only The Ex-List from CBS and Do Not Disturb from FOX were actually cancelled and pulled immediately from the line-up. Other cancelled shows, notably My Own Worst Enemy, Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, and Dirty Sexy Money were allowed to air most or all of the episodes that had been produced at the time that the cancellation order was given (apparently there are three episodes each of Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money that will air in the Summer 2009). The cancellation of Do Not Disturb and The Ex-List are not surprising. The "humour" in the FOX comedy had all the subtlety of being bludgeoned with a sledge hammer, while The Ex-List hinged on people buying into a premise that I can't see as being anything but absurd (a woman believes a "psychic" who tells her that if she doesn't find her "soul mate" – a man that she had previously been involved with – within a year she will never find happiness) even though many professional critics were enamoured with the show.

No, the interesting part of this season's round of cancellations is that aside from these two the series weren't immediately pulled from the line-up. Even the series that Media Rights Capital did for The CW were allowed to continue their runs after being cancelled (by MRC) until the network ended their deal with the content provider. This is in vivid contrast to previous seasons. The strike affected season of 2007-08 aside, the recent trend has been to pull shows from the line-up quickly. In the last pre-strike season, 2006-07, the five networks cancelled six scripted shows that had aired five episodes or less. And who could forget shows like Emily's Reasons Why Not (1 episode), Just Legal (3 episodes, with five more burned off in the summer), Love Monkey (3 episodes on CBS with the remaining five airing on VH1), Head Cases (2 episodes), Heist (5 episodes), Inconceivable (2 episodes), or Book of Daniel (3 episodes). These shows were all from the 2005-06 season.

The reason for the stark contrast between this season and previous seasons is not entirely clear. One explanation might be the as yet unrealised threat of a Screen Actors Guild strike (the likelihood of which seems increasingly low), or it could be one of the effects of the current economic situation – networks can't afford financially to effectively throw away the money they invested in a show by not airing all of the episodes they've paid for without a damned good reason. In the case of The Ex-List it is probably the realization that they would have better ratings (and consequently be able to charge better advertising rates) with reruns of their stand-alone procedurals.

One effect of this reluctance to immediately pull shows from the line-up has been that viewers have been given more of a chance to view shows. Many viewers – or at the ones who comment on various blogs and message boards – claim that they want new shows to "get a fair chance." Some even go so far as to state that they won't watch new shows when they air because of the fear of quick cancellation (an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy if I ever heard one; if people don't watch new shows out of fear that they might be cancelled then the ratings will be low and those shows will be cancelled). The downside of the networks not pulling shows immediately is that it seems to disprove the theory that a show will gain audience if given time to "mature." Instead viewership for most shows seems to decline or at least stabilise at a lower level when the shows "mature." Leaving aside the argument that the ratings system is "broken" (usually made without any suggestions on how to fix the system), the cancellation of low rated shows is a constant reminder that broadcasting is first and foremost a business.

No comments: