Thursday, November 26, 2015

First Cancellation–Wicked City

Wicked_City_ABCABC has announced that they will be pulling their new series Wicked City after three episodes. For now it will be replaced by reruns of reality series Shark Tank which had held down the time slot while the network waited for the show to debut. Yawn

This makes the series, about a kinky serial killer and his lover set in Los Angeles in the 1980s, the first new series of the 2015-16 to actually be cancelled. The cancellation date of November 13 is the latest date for a cancellation in recent years.

But is it really?

There’s no argument that Wicked City is the first series to leave the air this season and the show that has left the air quickest so far this year (3 episodes), but a number of series have had their series orders reduced. These include FOX’s Minority Report, ABC’s Blood & Oil, and NBC’s The Player and Truth Be Told. With the exception of The Player these shows have had their orders reduced from 13 to 10 episodes (The Player’s order was cut to 9 episodes). Aren’t these effectively cancellations, which would mean that these shows were cancelled before Wicked City?

Well I think that maybe an argument could be made along those lines. I suspect that the networks have definite reasons for reducing orders and letting the shows run out their abbreviated orders rather than being pulled outright in the way that Wicked City was.

TV.Com did an article called 6 Reasons Why Networks Are Trimming Orders Instead of Canceling Shows. The writer lists reasons why he thinks that the networks have opted to trim orders. I think that some (but not all) of what he says has some validity. The six reasons, with on interpretation of what I believe he’s saying are:
  1. Face Saving for Networks: Image is everything for the networks and “trimming the order” for a show “sounds” better than saying outright that the show is cancelled.
  2. Shows Finish On Their Own Terms: Trimming the order gives the creative team the ability to craft a series finale rather than having the show just end, or worse end with a cliff-hanger.
  3. The Bridges Remain Unburned: According to the writer, there’s a power shift going on between networks and creators so that “playing nice” – which presumably means not cancelling a show outright – makes more sense for the networks because “you never know who’s going to be worthy of a second chance.
  4. Life (and Money) After Death in Streaming: Basically the idea that even a failed show like Minority Report can have life after leaving the broadcast network – and can generate revenue for the network – on a streaming service like Netflix or Crackle, or some other site that “come up with funny names and pay exorbitant amounts of money for streaming rights to shows.” But they won’t do that if the show only had a couple of episodes before being canned.
  5. The Bench is Shallow: There aren’t the reserves of new shows that can be brought in to fill in the blank spot where a cancelled show used to be – which presumably is why Wicked City is being replaced by reruns of Shark Tank instead of episodes of something new – because those shows are earmarked for hiatus periods of running shows, or to replace short-run shows.The irony is that Wicked City was meant to be a mid-season show, which may indicate that the bench is not only shallow but weak.
  6. Networks Have Accepted the Grim Realities of Their Futures: For this I’m going to have to run nearly his entire reasoning, so please excuse the profanities – they’re his not mine, although my opinion of the logic in this one can be described with a word he uses in this explanation (you can guess which one): Like a single man approaching his 40s and eating Hot Pockets for dinner for the third night in a row, sometimes it's easier for networks to accept that things are just how they are and it's pointless to try harder. This is the new paradigm, and networks understand they're dinosaurs and the chances of getting a huge hit that can float a network are slimmer and slimmer with each day that passes. Yeah, this is a pessimistic view of things, but it's also the truth. You can only throw so much shit at a wall to see if it sticks before you run out of shit and your arm gets tired. More important for networks right now is to try to devise alternate ways of competing with the expanding TV market rather than spending all the money it takes to find the next Empire. 

So I think he may have some valid points with some of his reasons, specifically (and in order) numbers 5, 2, 3, and 4. The big reason is that “the bench is shallow” but more importantly is that it is rare for a new replacement series to earn ratings that are better than the ratings that the show it is replacing earned. As it is, shows starting in January or later often face an uphill struggle to gain acceptance. Empire, which debuted in January 2015, is a rare exception.

I’d like to offer a couple of options of my own that may have some validity.
  1. Trimming the Order is a Flexible Response: Put simply, trimming the order for a show allows the network to reverse or at least modify their decision as to the fate of a show. If, for example, the people who watched Thursday Night Football decided that they’d rather watch The Player on NBC than CBS’s Elementary (or ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder) once football left CBS, a trimmed order would allow the network to react to the sudden upswing in viewers. Not that a sudden increase in audience numbers is a likely outcome. In fact it is increasingly rare in the current TV landscape.
  2. Using What You Paid For: As I understand it – and I readily admit that my understanding of the workings of this part of the TV industry is weak – the networks contract for a certain number of episodes. Those episodes are in various stages of the production process, from completed scripts to post production. The networks has paid, or made partial payment, for those episodes. Trimming the order would stop work on new scripts but would allow the completed scripts (that the network has paid for) to go through the production process.

Of course all of this begs the ultimate question: why was Wicked City cancelled when Minority Report, The Player, Blood & Oil, and Truth Be Told had their orders cut? It seems to be a pretty simple answer really. The viewership for the shows that had their orders reduced were bad, no doubt about that, but the viewership for Wicked City was abysmal This chart shows the combined “live” and same day viewership 18-49 demographic ratings and share of Wicked City and the shows shows that had their orders cut. (There’s same day +7 data also available for some shows but not for Wicked City so I won’t include that). All information taken from Wikipedia which in turn uses data from TV By The Numbers. I will give information for the pilot and the most recent show to air, and for comparison sake I’ll include the information for NBC’s Blindspot, which appears to be the most successful of the new series (except Supergirl, for which I don’t have enough data).

(Same Day +1)
18-49 Rating/Share
Wicked City
November 10 1,690,000 0.4/1
The Player Pilot 4,680,000 1.2/4
November 19 3,410000 0.8/3
Blood & Oil Pilot 6,360,000 1.4/4
November 8 3,400,000 0.8/2
Minority Report Pilot 3,100,000 1.1/3
November 23 1,520,000 0.5/2
Truth Be Told  Pilot 2,580,000 0.7/3
November 20 2,110,000 0.6/2
Blindspot Pilot 10,610,000 3.1/10
November 23 7,030,000 1.9/6

Compared to the four shows that had their orders cut, viewership for the pilot of Wicked City was worse than Minority Report (which probably should have been cancelled but it ran on FOX) and Truth Be Told (which aired on Friday night, where viewership is lower than the rest of the week). Wicked City’s pilot actually had a lower viewership than the most final episode of The Player.  Maybe the worst part of all for ABC was the 18-49 demographic numbers given that at the network’s upfronts in May “ABC president Paul Lee stated that the show was their highest testing pilot of 2015 among millennials.” This group would represent the 18-35 year-old portion of the demographic, and yet the 18-49 rating and share for Wicked City was worse than that of any of the new shows except the Friday series Truth Be Told. This is the big reason why Wicked City got cancelled instead of having its order cut.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Am I Getting Too Old For This?

master-of-noneThis isn’t a review of the show I’m going to be talking about because I broke one of my cardinal rules of reviewing anything. I suppose you could call it more of a musing about the universe and my place as an amateur TV critic, as revealed by my reaction to a new show.

I signed up for Netflix a couple of months ago. There’s a whole story about being Canadian streaming video and how it’s a different experience from the one that Americans face, but that’s for another time. Generally the Netflix experience has been an enjoyable one even though I haven’t been binge watching every show available on on the service, the way we’re apparently supposed to. I usually end up watching one or two shows a night, depending on the night, but sticking with them until I’ve seen all of the available episodes.

Saturday night, after watching Ocean’s 13 (nowhere near as enjoyable as either version of Ocean’s 11 or even Ocean’s 12) I decided that I felt like a comedy. I’ve gone through the first season of Grace & Frankie which I loved so I decided that I’d try Aziz Ansari’s new series Master Of None. I had seen the rave reviews that the series had received from everybody from the New York Times to Vogue Magazine which basically called it hilarious and the greatest thing since sliced bread, or at least the greatest comedy of this year (okay, so admittedly that’s not a high bar to clear based on what the broadcast networks came up with this season. Or last season. I figured I’d give it a try and see what all the fuss was about.

I watched about half the first episode.

That’s why I’m not reviewing Master of None; my cardinal rule of reviewing anything is that you can’t give an informed opinion of anything if you only experience a portion of if. What I can tell you is why I stopped watching it. I didn’t find it funny. More importantly I didn’t find anything or anyone that I could latch onto that could hold my interest. Ansari and the three characters at the start of the episode (after his little tryst and subsequent trip to the pharmacy) were self-absorbed, self-involved, self-satisfied a--holes. There discussion of children and the impact that having children would have was enough to make me want to bludgeon all three of them so that they wouldn’t have children. An example of this was when Ansari was talking about how being a parent would keep him from having pasta. He wants pasta but having a kid means that he has to stay at home to look after the kid so he can’t have pasta. When it’s pointed out that people with kids actually have pasta, the response is that they’re just eating their kid’s Spaghetti-os. I managed to make it a few minutes longer to when Ansari and his buddy Brian were at the party for a one year-old (Brian hogs the bouncy house and gets mad because a kid in there prevents him from getting “his bounce on”) before I said to hell with this and looked for an episode of What’s My Line (with Fred Allen!) on YouTube.

The thing I look for when I’m watching most TV shows is something to hold my interest. This is usually a character that I can feel some empathy for, or sympathy for, or a situation that catches my interest. That’s what got me hooked on The Big Bang Theory from the start; I felt an empathy for Leonard being in love with someone who – at least at the beginning – had no romantic feelings for him. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt too many times. The initial mystery got me into How To Get Away With Murder, but I dropped the show recently – after the initial mystery was solved – because I didn’t like any of the characters. Actually I thought that all of the main characters should be arrested and have the keys to their cells thrown away. Having eliminated the thing that got me interested in the show it had to hold me with the characters and it didn’t have any characters that I felt any empathy or sympathy for. As far as Master of None goes, I felt nothing for Ansari or his friend who monopolized the bouncy house which was as far as I got into the regular characters.

So here’s the thing. I know I have the right to say that I didn’t like what I saw of this show. I can express a personal opinion just as well as anyone.The fact that I can give reasons – or at least I can reasonably cogently explain – why I dislike the show is even better. The problem I have is with being the voice in the wilderness; the guy who says “I hate this,” when everyone else says that “this is genius.” It bothers me because I want to know why I am this out of step with things.

(By the way I’m not kidding about “everyone” liking this show. It has an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 91 on Metacritics with all 28 critical reviews being positive.)

There are probably a lot of reasons why I didn’t rave about this show. I have always stated that I don’t really like most comedies, with a particular distaste for Seinfeld and shows that remind me of it (and boy did Master of None remind me of Seinfeld). Then, as I have said, there is the high annoyance factor that I felt about the characters that I’ve seen. Maybe the show and Ansari would have shown me something if I’d watched more of the episode or a different episode of the series or more episodes of the series? Maybe you have to watch all ten episodes to truly appreciate the show’s genius. The question then becomes whether that is necessarily a good thing, but that’s an issue for another time. Clearly I don’t know enough about the show to deliver a truly informed impression, which is why I didn’t label this as a review of the show.

But there is a nagging doubt in my mind, and that is that I can’t truly appreciate this show because at 59 years of age I am far away from being the target audience of this show. Mark Peikert of The Wrap wrote the following: “Master of None is more articulate than any other show at putting under a microscope that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence. The series also happens to be sexy, hilarious, and very moving, a tribute to Ansari’s observational powers and ability to pinpoint the zeitgeist.” But if the reason that I can’t appreciate this show is because I can’t insinuate myself into “that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence,” is it valid for me to try to review shows for a general audience?