We have about 12-16 weeks left (about 10 episodes for those shows will full orders for the year) in the 2010-2011 network broadcast season. One thing is certain, I think it is harder and harder for shows to get on the air and stay on the air long-term. Think about it. It used to be that a new show had an entire season to see if it could make it. In some cases, it even got a few seasons to see what it could do. When you hear Murphy Brown, LA Law, Cheers, Hill Street Blues…what do you think? These were classic shows that people loved, they won lots of awards and accolades, and people still watch them on syndicated channels or DVDs today. Yet if every single one of these shows, were broadcast today, NONE of them would have seen a 2nd season and some probably wouldn’t have lasted to mid-season. Think about Cheers. Cheers was dead last in the ratings when it premiered in 1982. It would have been canceled after 3 episodes today. Maybe it would have lasted until mid-season with burn offs on Saturday. And before you ask, yes, we are talking about the same Cheers that ran for ELEVEN SEASONS and spun off one of the most successful sitcoms ever, Frasier, which ran another ELEVEN SEASONS on its own. In its first TWO seasons, Cheers wasn’t in the top 30 TV shows and as I mentioned in its first season was dead last. It didn’t crack the top 30 until season 3 (tied for #12 with Hotel.) But starting with season 4, it was in the top 5 shows for the next SEVEN seasons with it being #1 during the 1990-1991 season. In its final season, the 1992-1993 season, it was #8. When I look at that, I am blown away. The saying “timing is everything” couldn’t be more true when it comes to TV. Could you imagine a TV history that didn’t include Cheers? If Cheers premiered today to those ratings, you wouldn’t be talking about Cheers as one of the best sitcoms of all time with some of the most quotable characters ever. Could you imagine TV history without Frasier? If Cheers never got off the ground, Frasier never would have happened. Now keep in mind, when I say “those ratings” I don’t mean the actual ratings because they can’t be compared to today’s ratings. A #1 show back in the 70s and 80s would pull in a 30-32 rating. Today the #1 show pulls in around 16-17 (which wouldn’t have put it in the top 30-40 shows in the 70s and 80s.) I mean the ranking of where the show falls vs. its competitors. Now I am not one of those pining of the old days type of people but it does make you think. How many shows that have been canceled over the last 10 years could have been the next Cheers if it was given a chance?
Not only do shows have to worry about bringing in the ratings for the advertisers to keep revenues flowing at the networks, as well as the shows they compete with in their respective time slots, but there is one more area that they have to worry about…shows on their own network. The more successful a network is with its shows, the harder it is to stay on that network. On the flip side, the more credence your show gets because it is on said successful network, the more viewers your show will likely get. It’s a quite a conundrum. Break it down by network. CBS is far and away the best network in both total viewers and ratings in the all important adults 18-49 advertiser category. ABC is 2nd in total viewers but 4th in ratings (guess ABC is skewing really young or really old.) NBC is 3rd in total viewers and ratings. Fox is 4th in total viewers and 2nd in ratings (thank you American Idol.) And the CW is a distant 5th in everything. CBS, NBC, and the CW are up this year in ratings. The CW programming this year is really strong (for CW standards) and isn’t surprising since it has such a small base with which to grow. NBC really had nowhere to go but up. If I am not mistaken, the Winter Olympics were last year in February so that could impact NBC in the later part of this season. CBS is CBS but could see some big declines in the next few weeks because they had the Super Bowl last year. Fox is down but could rebound with Super Bowl this year. ABC is down and I’m not sure why, to be honest. I am going to assume it’s a weak broadcast season.
So what does all this mean? It means awesome shows like Blue Bloods and The Good Wife on CBS may not make it to next season because all the other CBS shows are doing so well yet NBC can’t keep a drama on the air to save its life. In terms of hour-long dramas, CBS has only canceled one show this year (Medium) while only one other show appears to be headed for cancellation (The Defenders.) NBC has canceled 2 shows (Outlaw and Undercovers) while 3 shows appear headed for cancellation (The Cape, The Event, and Chase.) ABC has canceled 2 shows so far (The Whole Truth and My Generation) while 3 shows appear headed for cancellation (V, No Ordinary Family, Detroit 1-8-7.) Both NBC and ABC will seem to have 5 open drama spots where CBS will only have 2. And here is the part that confuses me, CBS NEEDS to cancel more shows so that they can premiere new shows next season, that could be the next CSI or Grey’s Anatomy (in terms of ratings not content.) WHY? If you have shows that are working, why dump them? Because something MAY be better? Don’t get me wrong. I am not under the delusion that the networks care about good programming for the viewer. They care about good programming for the viewer only if it gets them the ratings needed to drive up costs to the advertisers, to increase revenues. This is a business and the bottom line is, money drives everything. But there has to be a better way so the viewer doesn’t lose quality programming.
You sports fans out there can appreciate the next analogy. Why can’t we have a free agency/trade period in TV like pro sports teams? Hear me out for a minute. What if a show like Blue Bloods, which has a solid, loyal audience, is a great show but isn’t big enough to out-do the other shows on the network. CBS would have a dilemma. Blue Bloods is a solid procedural and they like it creatively and don’t want to walk away from it but would like to take a chance on a new show that could bring in a larger audience. CBS could “trade” it to another network and get something in return. Just like a football team with one too many linebackers and there isn’t room for him on the team. He’s fantastic, just not better than what they have. So they trade him to another team to get something they need in return. In this case, I’m not suggesting networks trade a 1 hour drama for 1/2 sitcom and some advertisers to be named later. But there could be a win-win solution. NBC’s dramas have really been tanking and they have been struggling in this category since ER went off the air. What if CBS traded Blue Bloods to NBC and in return, CBS would get a % of their advertising revenue during that show. It’s a win for NBC because they are getting a proven show with a loyal audience that they can hopefully build on (something they have been struggling with for many years now.) It could remove competition for them with one of their other shows in the same time slot, L&O SVU (which you could argue has the same type of audience) and could be moved to set up a “2 hours of Justice” night with Blue Bloods at 9pm and SVU at 10pm. Ok so we’d have to work on the tag line, but you get the idea. Then CBS would get a % of the ad revenue from that show. It’s still better revenue than NBC was getting from a show like The Cape or The Event that they are losing. So even giving 5-7% to CBS, the 93-95% they are left with is still better than 100% with The Cape because they could charge a higher premium due to the ratings. CBS gets that 5-7% for as long as the show runs and are basically getting ad revenue for nothing. And the viewers of Blue Blood don’t have to see their show go off the air….unless NBC finds a way to kill it which is completely possible. Maybe there is even a bonus package in place for CBS if the show lasts for 10+ seasons. I love this solution!!!!! Now, am I over simplifying a situation that is probably more complicated than it sounds, probably. But why not try it? Give a few seasons to see if it could work. Doesn’t it benefit ALL the networks to keep the best programming on the air possible to keep the viewers coming back to drive those ad sales up? I think the viewers would appreciate it and so would the cable and satellite companies. The cable and satellite companies would love it because there would be more of a need to record shows with so much good programming on the air, that it would drive the need for DVRs up and people would be buying more so they can not miss their favorite shows! The more quality products out there, the more revenue that naturally comes in to all parties involved. Plus it makes people a lot less angry at the networks for pulling their favorite shows. I am still pissed at FOX for pulling Reunion off the air before we found out who murdered Sam!!!
I am a business person but the TV industry is not my area of expertise. Ask me anything about the alcohol beverage industry and I could give you a sound business plan. I am just someone who love TV and loves GOOD TV. I hate seeing good shows getting canceled and talented casts and excellent writers and crews be out of work because you have to make room for something that MIGHT be better. I think another part of why networks are so quick to dump shows is because they have SO many shows in waiting. Why not have 2 dramas, 2 comedies, and a reality show ready to go if something doesn’t work. And if something doesn’t after giving it a fair chance, you dump it and go with the backup plan. But if it works, then hold off the back up plans for next season or dump the back up plan. Wouldn’t it have to be cheaper to get rid of a pilot than a whole show that’s been on the air already? Again, I know I am over-simplifying this but since I’m not an expert, just someone who wants to see the best shows on TV, I’m throwing ideas out there. It’s just, the idea of Blue Bloods or The Good Wife going off the air because CBS needs to get rid of 2 more hours of drama to make room for stuff next season that may or may not work, is mind-boggling to me. Yet, NBC probably won’t have anything near the level of these two shows coming to its network next year. I don’t know that with 100% certainty. But based on their recent history, it isn’t likely.
I guess my main point for writing this is that I think the networks are currently setting themselves up for failure, more times than not. It used to be that you had a show and it had 22-24 episodes to see what it could do with some back ups if it really stunk. Now you have fall season shows, mid-season shows, summer season shows, and replacement shows for fall and mid-season. It’s too many! No wonder shows are pulled after 3-5 showings. You have so many waiting in the wings that if it isn’t clicking immediately, it’s gone and the next one is coming in. And I understand that with the advent of cable shows taking over, networks can’t afford to be patient. It’s really not fair to compare cable to network because there is so much more you are permitted to do with cable that you can’t with network TV. But like it or not, fair or not, they compete for viewers. And with people becoming more and more busy and their time becoming more valuable, they are going to go where there is quality. So what is a network to do?
If you were in charge, what would you do? How would you make it so good shows don’t disappear to never see what they could achieve? How can we make sure that we don’t miss an opportunity on the next great show? How do we make sure “Cheers” gets its chance?