Canceling a TV show: The network's POV

cancelledtv.jpg Canceled shows are one of the most aggravating aspects of TV. You check out a new series, watch for 5 or 10 or 13 episodes, fall in love with the characters and the story, and then suddenly some faceless jerk executive in a suit who never cared about the show cancels it. Argh! That's the general perception anyway. From my side of the table things tend to look a little different. Shows are never canceled blithely. Everyone working on them at every level has invested too much time, money and - most importantly - passion for that to happen. There is no one who wants a show to succeed more than we do. Take a new show that ran for 13 episodes. That's 13 hours of TV you watched if you include commercials, or around 9-10 without. Given how many options are out there, that's a huge commitment in viewing time for you to devote to one show, and it's about all we can ask of anyone. On our end, to get you those 13 hours, our commitment to that show has been thousands of human hours given by hundreds of people who've been working on that show for six months, a year, or more.
It's not just making the show, which is a massive undertaking in itself -- it's all the things that go along with it: Devising and executing a marketing campaign, a press strategy, a Web/mobile/social approach, selling the show to advertisers, scheduling the show (which is way more complicated than most people think btw). Someone, somewhere spent time working on everything you see around the show. Like the Web site? That was weeks of work. Read a blog interview with your favorite actor? That was because of the PR team. See a great billboard? Designers came up with the ad, and someone somewhere figured out which billboard to buy when and for how long and for how much. It's not only human hours being devoted to that show. By the time you've seen it, we've already spent millions of dollars developing and making the show, and millions more on all the stuff that goes around the show. (Sidebar: Unless I miss my guess, at this point a BoingBoing commenter will chime in that this is the whole problem with the's huge and bloated with way too many layers of middle-men. And yes, it certainly seems that way. So far every attempt by anyone to not do all of this stuff hasn't worked. No one's found a way for indie TV to be successful the way indie films can be. I'd love to see it happen. If you can figure it out, give me a call.) After we've spent all these months and millions on the show, the people working on it have usually become friends. Actually, we're often already friends because we've worked together on other shows. But if we weren't before, we are now. Other people have relocated for months on end, finding temporary apartments and leaving their families for long stretches at a time to try to make the show a success. If the show doesn't work, it's pretty devastating on our side of the fence. All those great ideas, all that time and all that money was for nothing. A lot of our friends will have to find new jobs (fortunately there will be new opportunities on other shows, which is why you often see familiar faces in our industry). All those great plans we had for the next episode or the next season will never materialize. That's not to say you should feel sorry for anyone working in TV. You shouldn't. It's a ridiculously fun industry to work in, and the pay is pretty good. It's the nature of the business that most shows fail, and everyone knows that going in. But canceling shows is a BIG deal for us that impacts a LOT of people, and it's the last thing we ever want to have to do. PS You know those faceless jerk executives in a suit I mentioned? Not really true. We don't actually wear suits anymore. Just thought I'd clear that up. Apologies for reusing the "canceled TV" graphic. Couldn't find anything that worked better.


  1. Craig has been one of my favorite guest editors of boingboing.
    I hope we get a link of his posts grouped together when he leaves.

  2. That is a great sympathy for the devil piece from mr (whoever wrote it). Have sympathy for what we put into something and see we no longer wear horns.. so let it be.

    What about this article actually explains why certain ones fail? Lets use some critical ones out there.
    Kings (which was expensive true)

    I know that your shuffling of shows that are starting to bring in viewership will suddenly move and then lose half or more. Then you complain that it doesn’t have the viewer ship so deep six it. So please forgive my acid reflux on your behalf. The cancellation of those two shows and a few others of NBC has kept me from NBC for 1 year and a few months. No SciFi now SyFy??!?! Seriously?!?! No other affiliates… no msnbc (which sucked I used to visit that a lot). I still have almost a year to go for you killing off my life, I know it means nothing… but I wont even watch your crap on hulu till then.

    So back to the ninth level!

  3. What about canceling a show after only airing 2 episodes? And on a crappy time slot? Shouldn’t the network at least give the show a chance?

    1. I wrote that show, and no, it shouldn’t be given a chance.

      Remember that the people on the inside have seen 10 more scripts and maybe 6 more fully edited episodes before they make the decision, and have a decent sense of where it’s going.

  4. This is a good article, and I think you’re right, most of the viewers out there do have an attitude of it being the fault of the network bigwigs.

    For me personally, I just get frustrated with how quickly some shows are canceled. Its much more prominent on network TV, where the bar is set so much higher. The industry has changed a lot and I realize that, but it makes it so difficult for really well written, quality shows to make it, when they’re only given a few episodes to do it in. I’d just love to see the networks actually give a few new shows each season a chance to find their audience. After all, they’re the professionals, they should be able to spot the shows that have potential, given enough time.

    Anyway, great article and thanks for the insight. It’s easy to forget that the faceless jerk executives are people too, suit or not. ;)

  5. Crew people are not trying to make the show a success.They wait for Thursday to get their check so they can deposit it on Friday to pay for that boat they never use and those 3 cars that are parked in their Valencia/Westlake Village tract home.Then comes Monday with another 60-70 hr. week ahead of you which translates to 60-70 hrs. of not raising your child or keeping tabs on your wife as she peruses Facebook to hook up with an old classmate because she so friggin’ bored because she never sees you.Thats just fine though because your banging the wardrobe/make-up/hair chick anyway.

  6. Why when a show is canceled is there so little thought given to wrap up. Do so many writers really think there will be a DVD or movie follow up? Jericho was one of the few shows who made a nice stopping point, Sarah Connor pretty much just ended. It seems that the networks loose quite a bit of viewer goodwill in the sudden series kill with no real ending or stopping point. As bad as BSG ended at least it said a real goodbye.

    1. People often complain about the premature cancellation of “Arrested Development” but that show succeeded spectacularly where many have failed: it stayed funny and sharp to the last, tied up every loose end by the conclusion of the series, and had a finale that truly lived up to its promise. I have to wonder if it could have accomplished that had Fox kept it around for another few years.

  7. >> PS You know those faceless jerk executives in a suit I mentioned? Not really true. We don’t actually wear suits anymore. Just thought I’d clear that up.

    funny how suits see this. HINT: it’s not what you wear that makes you a suit, suit.

  8. I love the way this guy preemptively (and effectively) strikes against the boingboing naysayers he knows are going to come trolling.

    As far as the graphic goes, how about a still from Pushing Daisies? Huh? HUH?


  9. So why does it seem that all the “good” shows are being canceled and often replaced by crap “reality” shows?

  10. That all may be true at SciFi (at least most of the time) but I think the evil-overlord-killing-the-show-without-giving-it-a-chance thing actually happens at FOX.

    And ABC supposedly thanked the guy who bought Lost and Desperate Housewives by firing him, because he had spent too much money. Now that those 2 shows have paid off themselves and everything else, ABC is chickening out again. (I most miss Pushing Daisies)

  11. I am guessing that profitability of a show is the real concern. BSG costs an arm and a leg, while Ghost Hunters costs some spare change in my pocket. By any sane measure, BSG is clearly a few orders of magnitude better than GH. Unfortunately, it is also a few orders of magnitude more expensive. The result is that the clearly shittier show, Ghost Hunters, is the better pick. Sure, it sucks, it has fewer viewers, and I snicker at the thought of anyone actually buying the DVD… it is still more profitable due to its low budget.

    That is all well and good until TV land becomes a post apocalyptic wasteland of these shows and almost equally cheap sitcoms. Now there are piles of shows that are in theory profitable (and maybe even in practice they are), but from a viewer perspective are utter crap. People like me say “fuck this, I’m out” and go watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer re-runs on Netflix.

    Personally, I think it is short sighted. You cannibalize your viewers. I might accidentally watch a cheap reality TV show that is sandwiched between something good just to pass time. That is to say, if the bread is good, I might eat a shit sandwich. Once you get rid of the good programing though, my desire to sit around eating shit falls through the floor. That is one thing I noticed about cutting the cable and using Netflix only. I don’t eat shit anymore. I might have watched crappy reality TV or some horrible sitcom on occasion when I was still plugged in, but now I don’t. Why watch something bad when I still have a massive library of GOOD things to watch?

    So, you drive off your core audience, and to make matters worse, die in the post broadcast market. No one is going to buy fucking Ghost Hunters or Crossing Over DVDs. They will buy BSG and Farscape DVDs.

    Firefly is a great example. Fox spit out like 12 episodes out of order at random time slots and then killed it. They almost certainly didn’t recover production costs while the show was still on. How about DVD sales though? I would bet my bottom dollars that Firefly turned out to be massively profitable through DVD sales and the licensing for “other stuff”. Killing that show turned out to be one of the greatest TV crimes in history because they offed an awesome show with a large core fan base that turned out to be immensely profitable.

    If only the great Lord God Savor Nielson had seen it coming…

  12. Indie film works where indie TV doesn’t because in film, production and distribution are separate in a way they aren’t in TV. I can make a movie for 500 dollars, and if it’s well-made and entertaining, I can get it into the mainstream distribution network. But for the most part (and certainly in the last century) my cheap movie still needed the vast, “bloated” if you like, expensive (theatrical) distribution in order to get to the majority of the audience.

    In terms of product, indie TV can work just as well as indie film–the first season of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, for instance, was made for $3.50 and a bus pass, by people who had never made a show before. But nobody’s yet worked out a viable distribution method other than the massive corporation required to get television onto a channel and beamed out to millions of viewers. The internet might come up with one eventually, but it isn’t here yet.

  13. As a TV Producer… Getting cancelled sucks, “Its not you its me….” The thing I wish you would have touched on is that TV Content is only there so folks will watch the commercials and if AD SALES can’t sell it….doesnt matter how popular it is. (to be clear one of my recent shows was cancelled because the network was heading in a “new Direction”).

    Internet TV is not the be all end all wave of the future sad to say UNTIL you can press one button and bam there is your show, like tv currently is…There is no fuss, no muss just bam entertainment.

    And for the record most of the “suits” I know aint so bad :)

    1. …to be clear one of my recent shows was cancelled because the network was heading in a “new Direction”

      Could you give us any bigger hints as to which particular… Oh wait.

  14. I’d like to know why canceled shows with episodes “in the can” often never get to air those episodes? Do advertisers really flee in droves that quickly that you lose money to air the episodes?

    So many TV shows these days have serialized plotlines. Back in the dark ages, when I was growing up, if you missed an episode of the A-Team, you didn’t tune in the next week going, “Oh God, what did I miss? Murdock is missing and B.A. shaved his mohawk.” If you miss an episode of BSG or Lost, you’re pretty much screwed (luckily you can catch up online).

    This has two major impacts on ratings and cancellations that I can see. One is that if you don’t start watching some shows from the beginning, you are less likely to start tuning in until you’ve caught up (Oh crap, I missed the first three episodes of Dollhouse. I’ll wait for the DVDs then start watching next season. Whoops.). Because of that, I can’t see intra-season ratings going anywhere but down for some shows, even if they pick up the next season.

    The second is that cancellations, especially mid-season, leave everyone in the lurch as to the resolution of the storyline. This can obviously cause loss of Network/Channel trust and loyalty. Semi-serialized stories, like Chuck (or even Heroes) do a pretty good job of single season story arcs, usually followed by a “Reset” episode at the end of the season or beginning of the next.

    Personally, I wish every show with serialized plot lines would shoot for five year story arcs with seasonal “chapters” and that their networks would give them enough advance warning to film (and air) an impromptu finale if they get a mid-season cancellation, before the contracts are over and the sets are struck. There aren’t many series that continued with the same quality after about five years. Babylon 5 did this well (fighting cancellation all the way). BSG did it well, too, but I think I’d preferred to have been left in the dark rather than accept the finale of that show.

  15. This is the whole problem with the system…it’s huge and bloated with way too many layers of middle-men.

    Sorry. You kinda asked for that, dintcha?

    Honestly, this was from the POV of a person working on show production, not the network as stated in the title.

  16. Seems a lot of problems comes from poor scheduling. Moving a network TV show to Fri Nights is almost always a swan song (I’m looking at you FOX, Terminator:SCC). Debuting it at 7PM Sun during sports season is suicide. Moving it to a night opposite a ratings buster is just TV Executive sarcasm (I’m still looking at you, FOX, Bringing Up Baby). Above all, don’t keep moving a show around year after year. If you can’t find it, you can’t watch it (I’m looking at you ABC, Once And Again.)

    1. That’s what I alluded to in a comment on another of Craig’s posts.

      I think too many networks must think, “Our prime SF/action demographic doesn’t watch much TV on Friday nights. It must be because there aren’t any good SF/action shows on then.”

      NO, it’s because your target demographic doesn’t sit home on Friday and Saturday watching TV. Millions of people do, but not who you’re hoping to reach (at least in my experience).

      I’m over 40 and ever since I got my license (or a few years before that), I was never home on Friday or Saturday night and if we were at a house, we weren’t interested in watching a TV show.

      None of that is anywhere near as bad as playing time-slot roulette, showing episodes out of order, underestimating the intelligence of your audience and forcing cuts and dumbed-down intro episodes, etc. (Yes, I’m talking about Fox, mostly).

  17. I’m reminded of your earlier comment that some shows don’t have more than “6 episodes” in them.

    What’s wrong with limited-run series?

    Why can’t a show run for one or two or three seasons, and then have an ending, and be done?

    And if the crew is really well-loved, they can go work on other things with a success under their belt, or even come back for a “sequel series.”

    I guess it futzes with reruns a bit, but reruns are filler anyway. No one rushes home from work at 5:30 PM to go catch ten-year old episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond.

    The up-front costs seem to be part of making a “good” show, that is well-received, and that’s normal, and natural. At the very least, the tech and the coordination used to launch these things involves a lot of overhead. There’s limited ways to cut costs there.

    But a show doesn’t have to be “cancelled before its time.” It can just end. There is no Forever Show.

    1. I think the BBC has this right: six- or eight-episode “series” that might or might not be renewed. I would’ve loved to see Whedon’s proposed BBC-produced “Ripper” with Anthony Stewart Head as a post-Buffy Giles; think of, say, the last season of Buffy condensed down to eight eps. Heck, look at what Whedon did with “Dollhouse” when Fox had the slight courtesy to show him the axe coming, unlike “Firefly.”

    2. I sometimes think that if there’s ever an interstellar war between humans and aliens it will have been started around the time Everybody Loves Raymond broadcasts reach that alien race’s home world.

  18. What kind of ratings data do you get from the cable companies that carry Syfy? Is it detailed enough to know how many individual viewers are loyal to a given show, or is it more like total viewership per timeslot?

    Second, the original Star Trek was cancelled after just three seasons, yet repeats to this day with generations of spinoffs and loyal fans. Is there any lesson to be taken from that?

  19. How about a piece about picking up shows from networks that dropped them (and might fall into another network’s portfolio?) … Journeymen come so mind .. that would have been a great match for scifi (sorry, i still deny your new name)

    Thanks again for the inside view, but I think we all know that thing are about to change …

    1. +1.

      I luv science fiction, and these days I simply never have a reason to watch TV (modulo the occasional oil spill). These posts are too far from what I care about, and what I read BB for (“the flipside of serious culture”) to take seriously.

      So, hey Craig, if you are asking for programming suggestions, how about another Twilite / Harry Potter / LOTR / Depp marathon? Sheesh…

  20. One thing I’ve never understood about cancellation decisions is that the networks don’t seem to take into account the huge failure rate of new shows. Based on my casual observation, it seems that, when you cancel a show, there’s about a 75% chance that whatever replaces it will flop and be canceled within a season. Given that reality, I would expect networks to be more patient with borderline shows, like the classic “cult favorite but can’t get a mainstream following” situation.

    I assume that there’s something about network TV economics that escapes me. One theory is that only hit shows are really profitable, such that it makes sense to cut seven or eight “ok” shows in order to find one hit. That’s just speculation on my part, but I’d love to hear some input from Mr. Engler.

  21. @ #1 I think Firefly failed because of poor ratings. As great as the show was, Fox was selling it as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Space” and showing the most camp clips of the episode in the teaser trailers. Even all the Slashdot articles about Fox canceling Firefly couldn’t convince me to watch even a single episode after watching a single one of those teaser trailers.

    I only finally watched it in 2005 after (like most people) a friend suggested I watch it on DVD.

  22. 13 episodes are 13 hours of TV on the BBC.

    Don’t assume that every country manages TV the same way as in the USA.

    1. Unless you’re referring to the new series of “Doctor Who,” in which case 13 “hour-long” episodes are a very Americanized 9 hours of TV.

  23. Very interesting story, and comments. I think another commenter had it right when talking about what the problem was: the amount of time and people it takes to create and distribute TV shows.

    It really is a huge undertaking, I understand that. And why would networks cancel a show after spending all that time and money and greenlighting it to begin with? Cancellations are simply part of the game, and viewers that can’t accept that will always be frustrated. Maybe they should stick with movies instead.

    TV is a mass medium, which means that it needs to please millions of people. That normally requires lots of people to create shows.

    However the idea of Indie TV is the real story in the post. Why isn’t a TV network attempting the Indie production model right now in order to beat the bigger networks? Why are things still being done the same way? Isn’t it time to change?

    Current TV comes to mind, but it’s based on documentaries and other real stories, not fiction which drives the real network money.

    If you want to look at successful Indie TV, the first place to go is the Internet. There are lots of indie producers and movie makers trying to make a name for themselves. These low-cost efforts may not be the next “Lost” but they can point to a new way of making compelling TV shows at low cost.

  24. This article is basically saying “You think you’re upset? The people who worked on the show are devastated!”

    Which makes the suit who cancelled the show even more of a bastard, not less of one.

  25. Now the litany of ‘If they’d just do it the way _I_ suggest, they’d be instant millionaires with tons of successful TV shows’ posts.

    Life? Pushing Daisies? Kings? Want to know what those three shows had in common? I didn’t watch them. And neither did enough people to justify their costs. Oh, I was interested in Kings…at first. Tivoed it…but then I heard more about it and my interest waned. Pushing Daisies didn’t initially appeal to me when I heard the concept. By the time a friend told me it was a good show, it was cancelled. Life? Not even remotely interested.

    Everyone’s acting like only good shows get cancelled before their time or that only shows that they like. The number of shows that even get made into a pilot is ridiculously small, a fraction of those make it on the air and then only a percentage of those actually get an order for episodes. EVERY YEAR, EVERY NETWORK THROWS SPAGHETTI AT THE WALL. Because no one has a better system.

    There are plenty of reasons that shows fail or are cancelled…and fans may not like to hear it, but the world doesn’t center around their direct interests. Remember the 2007 version of the Bionic Woman? Ran only 8 episodes…because it was poorly written, expensive and got poor ratings. For every show that people complain about, there are plenty no one sheds a tear for. I didn’t hear a massive fan protest when SciFi quietly cancelled shows like the 2007 version of Flash Gordon, Painkiller Jane or Black Scorpion…because they weren’t very good. Did anyone even watch shows like “First Wave”?

    I liked shows like “Good vs. Evil”, “The Dresden Files” and “Farscape”…but I wasn’t shocked when they were cancelled. Being cancelled isn’t necessarily any reflection on a show’s quality…just it’s popularity or expense. Farscape was a popular show…but SciFi realized that it got the exact same ratings as RERUNS OF Stargate. Do the math.

    Does that mean some networks don’t decide to kill a show that deserves to live? Sure. But as much as I love Firefly, most people did not care for it. Serenity was a testament to the dedication of the fans…but nobody went to see the movie. And that wasn’t due to a lack of marketing or a poor budget or studio interference…it just didn’t garner a larger audience.

    And like it or not…the entertainment business is JUST THAT.

  26. I had a huge ass diatribe but then I realized it was just the cold medication talking.

    Most of the embittered tales of canceled shows here were not from Sci Fi but other networks.

    I think most contemporary television follows a natural arc that eventually must end.

    Oh yeah and my Onion News in Brief calendar today headline
    Chinese TV Show Canceled After Drawing only 180 Million Viewers
    the story goes on to say the timeslot will be filled with the live executions of those involved with the show.

  27. Craig, let’s be honest here. The people that work on the show are working for an independent production company that has nothing to do with the people at the network. When you (the network) cancels a show, none of the creative sweat and labor from the people involved in the show reaches your shores. Yeah, you guys foot the bill, so you get to call the shots, but for you (maybe not you specifically, but “you” the collective executives of TV) it’s really just a matter of number-shuffling and bottom-line profits. I’m not speaking out of my ass, I’m speaking from personal experience of having dealt with network execs from all major network and cable channels, over and over. Ask anyone in production, and they will say the same- tv is being run by business school graduates, not storytellers. But these business school grads get to tell the story tellers how to tell the story. They force changes on the story not because it makes a better story, but because their research dept. tells them that they need more males between 18-35, therefore we should really add a little more of this and have a lot less of that. When fans bitch and moan about their tv shows, 95% of the time, it can be traced to a network decision, not one by the writers or producers of the show.

    Your posts would be much more useful and palatable if they were simply honest- “listen, guys, this is a business for us, and we start and stop shows based on our best guess of how to navigate in this business.”

    Why someone thinks a business degree gives them the first clue about telling a good story is a whole ‘nother post I would love to read.

  28. I understand that it can be tough if you’ve actually worked on the production of the show in question, but I wonder just how many of the decisions to kill a show were really made by the people involved in the production. There seems to be less of a willingness to let a show with obvious potential find its audience and voice; both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine really didn’t bloom until their third seasons.

  29. Great perspective on how people on the production side feel about a show’s getting cancelled.

    When a show I like gets cancelled because viewership was supposedly too small, what astonishes me is that there are evidently not enough other people with similarly discriminating tastes to add up to a tenable audience. How can that be? Are the masses of humanity are made up of Philistines? Or I am a real oddball?

    Sometimes I suspect neither is at fault (well, the oddball part is probably true in any case).

    In 1965 when I was 14, I wrote a letter of protest to WRAL here in Raleigh when “The Outer Limits” was cancelled. The excuse was lack of viewership, but oddly that show remains a well-known and well-liked classic even today.

    Is it possible there is a viewer measurement problem? Maybe this is no longer true, but I know in the old days networks used to rely on the seriously-flawed Nielsen ratings.

    A more likely explanation is that there is a large potential audience for the show, but they just haven’t found out about it. That suggests that there could be promotional methods that would reach the unexploited potential.

    I guess you can’t rule out competition as a factor. Years ago, a new show had to compete against popular shows in the same time slot on other networks. That might still be a factor, although the time-shifting capabilities of DVRs are no doubt mitigating that factor. The other type of competition is pure non-consumption. People can’t watch TV endlessly, so they have to make choices and set priorities about what they’re going to watch.

  30. Agree with post #10, this is from the POV of a person working on show production, not the network. Person who work on production is closely involved with matter and in many ways – the first big fan with heart, but network is cold head with only one thought on mind >>> MONEY.
    So when I read the title of article I actually expect logical and reasonably facts on how and why networks work in cancellation process of choosing which show and why is being axed?? But this article actually just trying to justify “some faceless jerk executive in a suit”, not mine words. Not funny. Be specific next time. Look forward to next installment of your “inside job” scoop. Cheers

  31. What about Dr.Horrible ( and here you will say that it’s Joss Whedon’s product who had the support of experienced actors to work for peanuts ). Still, he got a great audience with barely anything because the “show” it’s good. Had it had an executive or more bureaucracy in it the result would have been a typical tv show that gets canceled.

    Or take a look at the 6 episodes per season of “The IT crowd”. They are all good, because more time was spent on quality rather than 2 good episodes an 11 fillers.

    I still think “some” T.V. executives only bow to one single boss: money. If it’s not there it’s not worth their executive time.

  32. tizroc – Mr. Engler, but I’m not very formal. Craig is fine. I’ll talk about the show shuffling tomorrow. Didn’t quite understand the rest of your post but I’m sorry about your year.
    rebdav – Usually a show is not canceled while it’s still got production time left, so they don’t get wrapped up. We try when we can though.
    Rindan, you guess correctly, profit is a key concern in any business that I’m aware of, including TV. BSG ran its full course. Ron & David wanted 4 years and they got it. So not a good example. The ratings for GH are HUGE though. It’s one of the top rated shows in our history. Ghost Hunters succeeds because a huge (and growing) audience likes it.
    cmpalmer, they might not get aired because the ratings are so low no one will watch, or I suspect sometimes they might get held to help DVD sales later, or aftermarket sales. One of the reasons we were very interested in picking up reruns of Firefly is because it had unaired eps that we knew would do a pretty good rating.
    jeligula, most of the jobs I mentioned are network jobs. Everything mentioned after “it’s not just making the show, which is a massive undertaking in itself”
    Atherworld, see tomorrow’s post :)
    Daedalus, the limited series model doesn’t work too well in the U.S. because there is no biz model to support it. Wish there were as it would open the door to some great stuff.
    caipirina, usually network shows are WAY too expensive for cable to pick up. Things aren’t about to change, they have changed, are changing and will continue to change.
    tjvm, see tomorrow’s post.
    Phlip, thank you for reading my post even though you don’t care about these things.
    davenewman, I’m talking from a U.S. network POV. I don’t have much day-to-day insight into other country’s networks.
    jalvear, people try it all the time. No one’s found a way to make it work yet. We look at Web series all the time too (such as our recent acquisition of Riese). Most Web series producers would rather be TV producers for now.
    Felix Mitchell, usually the unsuit (seriously, we don’t wear suits) was the one that made sure the show got paid for. They wanted it to work too. That’s why they made sure it got paid for.
    das memsen, see my note to jeligula. Most of the jobs I talk about happen at the network level. All we do is work on shows really. With the production companies. And yes, this is very true: “listen, guys, this is a business for us, and we start and stop shows based on our best guess of how to navigate in this business.” That’s pretty much how every business works, including the cable TV business and the TV production business.
    Liz, see above. If every show we put on were only about MONEY, TV would be a different place. We actually like the shows we work on and think others will too. At the same time everyone’s restriction (including the production’s) is that we have to be able to support the shows financially. No one works on them for free, nor should they.
    Mister N , it’s Joss Whedon’s product and he had the support of experienced actors who worked for far less than they would charge anyone else for ;) I’d love to see this model work for people beyond Joss. I’m rooting for all the producers out there doing Web series.
    greengestalt, I’m sorry the TV thing has not worked out for you. Although it’s not our show, they are bringing back Futurama. I hope that’s some solace.

    1. Thank you for replying, even if my original post was a bit … emotional… Looks like the mods deleted it.

      Anyways, I want Korgoth.

      IMO, Korgoth exposes the problem.

      It was wildly popular. It was exactly what many people wanted. As “Venture Brothers” was to “Johnny Quest”, “Korgoth” was to “Thundarr the Barbarian” -AND- all the “Sword and Sorcery” cartoons we WISH we had that weren’t dumbed down to make them kid’s fare.

      I think Korgoth, due to attention alone, would have generated enough viewers to make it generate plenty of revenue. (advertising, merchandise speculators, DVD box sets with “Extra” features, like more open sex and lurid long cut of a wench getting whipped in the dungeon ‘deleted’ scenes…) But, thanks to the sewer of modern television it actually wasn’t that bad as far as the “Adult” stuff in it. If cartoon network was too cowardly to do it, how about Spike that showed “Afro Samurai”, one of the good exceptions…?

      But, I think the real reason they pulled it was that it would “Raise the Bar” despite how blatant and low-brow it was. A “Heroic Fantasy” that isn’t diminished by modern “PC” hasn’t ever been on TV. Yeah, they made Conan, Beastmaster, etc. but they dumbed them down, sanitized them, tamed them, filed off that rough edge.

      In short, it’d be a wild success and big competition to the drek and slime on TV. In a real “Competitive” market, it’d be solid gold. But in a monopolistic market that’s owned by a few huge companies it’s “Rocking the Boat”.

      I think they like it that there can be a “Writers Strike” that goes on for years, but doesn’t seem to really affect programming that much. I think they don’t want to have to compete and risk an actor or a writer being able to dictate their own salary or-worse- a journalist/writer use that leverage to put something on the air that doesn’t agree with the corporate offices social engineering theme.

      Just one man’s opinion but I think it true.

  33. Look man….I’m glad you came over from your office to tell us what things are like there, but every time I’ve read one of your posts I can’t help but shake my head at how f’ing outmoded your industry is.
    You sit there and make excuses, tell us how things are and explain why things can never change, and I sit in my living room and change it by not having cable TV. Why do I not have cable TV? Because I have the internet, and why the hell would anyone have cable TV when the internet is cheaper.
    I’m more than happy to pay a reasonable price for content, like I do with my netflix subscription, but the price for what you deliver has been inflated by 5 middle men, and I so get it for free.
    You can be a part of the future, or you can be a foot note in history. Tell that to the suits.

  34. While yes, a 13 episode run may give one the figures for pass/fail on a series, but I recall Fox cancelling Wonderfalls after 4 episodes. That’s hardly time to even know when the show is on (and I think they changed airtimes twice before giving up on it)

    Craig Ratings advice: here’s some feedback as to why I’m not tuned in between eps of my favorite shows on sciffy..
    Must we always be exposed the entire plot (aka ‘spoilers’) of the next episode mere seconds after the current one has even finished the credits?

    What that accomplishes for me is a immediate changing of the channel at :58 and avoidance of it until :00 next show I want to watch. Not good for getting advertisers those eyeballs.

    I suggest trying something different. Generate some mystery. Yes, advertise it, but not a cliff notes summary repeated every few commercial breaks for seven days up to air time. Just try it. Do some focus groups.

    If it fails the focus groups, then okay, I’m an anomaly. A viewer who doesn’t skip randomly through a book for the good bits before I start reading.

    1. Bravo, webmonkees and completely agree with your comment.

      From my point of view, not only is it a turnoff to observe what appears to be *all* of the highlights of the upcoming episode at :58 of the current episode, but it’s also a turnoff to have _so many_ commercials about an upcoming show/movie.

      Craig, your marketing department does a great job of advertising a upcoming show/movie through repeat commercials, but the quantity of commercials on a upcoming show is nauseating to someone who watches several hours of the Syfy channel. Really, must I be forced to watch 30+ advertisements for “Mongolian Death Worm” over the course of several hours of programming? I get it. The movie is coming. Soon. Saturday at 8p. Enough!

      The multiple-repeat commercials about the upcoming show get so bad at times that it acts as a *detractor* for me to channel surf to Syfy to see what’s on, because i know the commercials will be so extremely heavy in quantity for a single upcoming new show or movie.

  35. “Daedalus, the limited series model doesn’t work too well in the U.S. because there is no biz model to support it. Wish there were as it would open the door to some great stuff.”

    A lot of the responses sound kind of similar: “No one (except maybe the exceptions like Joss) has done it yet! Such a shame!”

    So do it.

    Have those business school suitbags earn their keep and think of a way to monetize awesome, rather than trying to dictate a future consisting only of what has been historically possible and profitable. If an MBA is good for anything aside from an HR checklist, it’s gotta be good for that!

    Take a risk. Embrace change. Do something amazing today.

    I mean, this is Boing Boing! The gospel of independence and innovation and DIY genrepunk makerism is preached from the mountaintops loudly, and widely embraced. “It’s never been done before” is not an acceptable reason not to do it. In fact, it’s one of the best reasons to do it.

    Not every TV show can or should follow the model for TV shows that has been in place since All In The Family. You, as a suit-in-sheeps’-clothing, have some leverage to change a little bit of that.

    Coming to BB and guestblogging is the first step, but if it’s the last, then you’re giving up before the battle is truly joined.

  36. “Daedalus, the limited series model doesn’t work too well in the U.S. because there is no biz model to support it. Wish there were as it would open the door to some great stuff.”

    There was no business model for software licensing until Bill Gates created it. (For good or ill)

    My first thought for indie TV was succesfull web shows like “The Guild”, “College Humor”
    Granted if you look at out takes and producion stills from the Guild they are still shooting out of a 4 ton grip truck which dont come cheap and They are all SAG which is also not cheap but my point is that is the way of the future. Self produced and distributed over the tubes. The cream will float to the top.

  37. oneswellfoop, Not making excuses just explaining how thing work today. Is it the way things will work in a year? No, things will change in a year. Will TV cease to exist in a year? No, probably not. Why do people pay for cable TV and the Internet instead of just the Internet? Because it provides some value to them. When it doesn’t, people won’t pay. You may not pay for TV today, but today about 100,000,000 households pay for TV in the U.S.

    Daedalus, we try new models every day. Everyone is trying to figure it out. TV networks are, indie producers are, kids are, seasoned veterans are, etc. As Thomas Edison would say, no one has failed, they just haven’t found the idea that works yet. And, I fully agree that not every TV show can or should follow the model for TV shows that has been in place since All In The Family. (None actually do, but that’s not quite your point.) I believe we’re in violent agreement on this issue ;)

    1. Craig- here’s a question you might know the answer to. How many LESS people, percentage-wise, pay for tv today than 5 years ago? Obviously, there’s more people on this planet so there are more tv-viewers, but more and more people I know are dropping their cable subscription. Granted, I am not the average American, and tech-savvy people like boingboing folk are going to do this before middle America does, but if we’re doing it now, they’re going to do it later as it becomes easier and cheaper to be web-only. 10 years ago, only real weird people like myself didn’t watch any TV; now, it’s becoming more and more commonplace. Between video games and a virtually limitless archive of stuff to watch online, TV’s position as king-of-the-hill is less stable than it used to be. I know you think it’s going to be that way for a while and you’re not worried, but what do the numbers say, percentage-wise? Have we made a dent yet enough to raise any eyebrows?

      If not, don’t worry, we’ll keep at it until we do.

      1. I’m not aware of anyone who tracks the stats like that so can’t say. One article you might want to read: “” I also had an earlier BB post about pay TV subscribers growing 3% last year to 100 million.

    2. If we’re in violent agreement (the best kind!) then the only thing I need to know is how I can help. ;)

  38. I, too, am a little confused about the lack of a limited run series business model. The classic Big 3 networks did pretty good business for a while on mini-series. SyFy (ugh, like everyone else, I hate typing that) does lots of 2 and 3 part movies. DVD sets of entire seasons of series are sometimes expensive (leading to Netflixing them, which I’m not sure is in the best interest of anyone except Netflix), but a one or two DVDs or BluRay disks could hold a six hour miniseries.

    When you really break down a story or novel, there is no way to adapt even a fairly short novel to a 2 hour movie without leaving out a lot. Most movie scripts are closer to short story length in dialogue and plot (or novella at best).

    I’d also personally prefer to not watch a mini-series on successive nights (even though the network wants me to). They’re often on the weekend (my least likely time to watch TV), you have to have successive nights free, and if you DVR them you wind up with 4-6 hours to catch up on.

    Except for classic Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, I haven’t been fond of 1 hour anthology shows, but it seems like a fixed time slot for “telenovella” adaptations or original works could at least be tried. Like Masterpiece Theater.

    There are certainly things you could try.

    If it’s too costly to actually air the pilot for a as-yet-unpicked-up series, why not put it out on the web? Why bother with 5-minute “webisodes” – film the pilot, throw it out there, and see what it does. Build the word of mouth better before the series airs (although that could backfire).

    Also remember that if you are going to adapt a classic SF work to a mini-series or telenovella format, you SHOULDN’T HAVE TO CHANGE IT THAT MUCH. Theatrical adaptations are usually compressed greatly and might have to alter the story to do so. Again, look at the BBC/PBS Masterpiece Theater model. Cheap productions, great, but not A-list Hollywood actors, but slavish devotion to actually filming the story or novel.

    The LOTR trilogy almost did it, but even with that much time and money, Jackson managed to add a few things (you have to take things out). David Lynch’s Dune was the worst type of offense, not just compressing the story, but adding a bunch of silly crap like the weirding modules that weren’t in the story.

    Lathe of Heaven (the PBS original – the A&E version was crap) is another good example. Well done, compressed and changed a bit, low budget, but widely accepted as a good adaptation.

  39. This is just the way things work in the US. There is a whole world of other countries out there where TV is produced by people who actually love the medium. if there is a dominant message in this guys posts it is “Stop watching SyFy shows or American TV, we don’t give a shit, we’ll cancel whenever we want and then baw about how much we don’t like to.”

  40. “Thomas Edison would say,…”

    Probably should not quote Edison to a group who is by and large firmly Team Tesla. :)

  41. What concerns me about ideas to crowdsource major content (films, TV series) is that schedule time is expensive, in terms of project credibility and ability to sell it to Hollywood or networks, and that if you start paying for it to get schedules nailed down it isn’t necessarily any cheaper than having people doing it the way it is done now.

    Yes, sure, you have all the video editing tools and special effects tools you need for TV grade output available for free or cheap enough now, so you can get any number of potential people to do the work. But you also to some degree get what you pay for; those people may not understand the directors/producers/writers goals as well, may not communicate as well, may not be as good as the professionals are. You may have to redo work as a result, and that takes time, which will kill the ability to deliver on time.

    So, key question to everyone: What about new tech and mechanisms of working can concretely help doing TV series or movies in a cheaper way, but still effectively enough that you could credibly sell the product to (for example) SyFy?

    And, key question to Guest Moderator: What can SyFy (and the industry, writ large) do to encourage and engage with independent low cost production concepts, if they develop? Would some sort of prize mechanism work, say something like the best net-generated show of 4 eps produced gets a limited run on SyFy? Would developing a shorter format work, with several “short shows” running in a slot together, make a more manageable format for innovators and still saleable product for the network? What can you think of, which might make it easier for people to approach you with content, production concepts, etc?

  42. Syfy is owned by NBC Universal. NBC Universal is owned (for now) by General Electric. General Electric was started by Thomas Edison. So T.E. kinda pwns Syfy.

  43. Thank you very much for your commentary these past weeks. Regardless of how one feels about any particular post, it’s very nice (and brave!) to have content producers themselves engaging the general public. Enlightening.

  44. I’m still angry that Enterprise and Smallville were scheduled on the exact same time slot. I and many of my friends who were fans of both shows watched Smallville thinking it would be canceled and that Enterprise being the superior show would survive so we watched Smallville while it was still on the air. So here we are and that crapfest is still on the air while Enterprise whose reruns I’d watch anytime is long canceled. Why didn’t they just put it on a different hour? Superman vs. Trek, that’s just cruel to put nerds without a tivo through. He said scheduling is important but is it to maximize the shows viability or as I suspect used as a tool against other networks success?

    1. I’ve never understand scheduling shows opposite each other. I posted a version of this on a previous thread, but after it fell off the front page of BB.

      Let’s say one network has a show called “Matlock, She Wrote” that appeals to an older audience.

      Another has “The Urkel Cyrus Show” that appeals to very young people and families with no taste.

      Another has “Firefly: The Next Generation” which appeals to young(er) SF fans and fans of quality television :-)

      Since these show’s demographics don’t overlap significantly, if they were all shown at the same time, they should maximize their audiences for that timeslot.

      So another network has a hot new SF property and they’re trying to figure out when to air it. What do they do? Apparently they look at the all mighty Nielson ratings and say, “That Firefly series attracts a lot of viewers on Tuesday nights at 9, so that must be when that demographic likes to watch TV. We’ll put our show opposite that one and steal all of their audience.” and the ratings for both shows then drop by half.

      Does anyone understand this? Is there some revered operations management calculation that makes sense of it that I’m missing?

  45. We saw IronMan2. The trailers were all for CGI action movies. I decided that, this season, Hollywood had made only one movie, and then re-skinned it 7 or 8 times.

  46. Why did they cancel The Cosby Mysteries??? That show had limitless possibilities!

  47. My review of Peter Jackson’s LOTR series:

    It admirably demonstrated the power of the printed word.

  48. Re: Daedalus’ comments about limited series shows. I loved that the British edition of The Office had a nice, clean two-series-and-a-closer-special story arc. No jumping the shark, no filler episodes (those “best of/flashback” episodes filled with clips from earlier seasons), etc..

    I understand that when you’ve got a good thing going, you want to stay on the gravy train (and keep your fans happy, of course), but not every single story or situation can be drawn out over years and years.

  49. I guess what we’re trying to say here is that whoever came up with the name “Syfy” should be forced to approach Harlan Ellison and ask, “So, what kind of writing do you do exactly? Syfy?”

    There’s a crazy idea for a show for your network: Interviews with actual Science Fiction authors. Ever see “Prisoners of Gravity”? That show was a tiny band-aid over a gaping wound of desire. They would jam in 8-second soundbites of every science fiction author possible because there was just SO MUCH CONTENT to cram into a mere half hour show.

    Naw, a zero-budget talk show about books. That would never sell.

  50. So when are you going to answer The Wrestling Question, Craig?

    The ratings for GH are HUGE though. It’s one of the top rated shows in our history. Ghost Hunters succeeds because a huge (and growing) audience likes it.

    Yeah but, so does the Tyra Banks Show. Doesn’t running a channel involve more than just finding what collection of shows gets the best ratings? SyFy has a brand image.

    Can you explain how you get and use ratings please?

  51. Networks do stupid things that cause their shows to be cancelled. For instance, a new episode should be shown each week when the season starts. It frustrating when shows skip a week or two. Sometimes, I forget about a show because it has gone MIA and by the time I realize it’s back on, I’ve missed a few episodes and give up. It’s also frustrating when a show keeps changing timeslots. It is too much work to keep up with a show that moves around. I quit watching.

  52. I just want to re-iterate what others have also stated. I understand canceling a series. It happens. However, it annoys me VERY MUCH if a show gets canceled, and the network does not allow the show to “wrap up” which just leaves the audience hanging. That shows a very fundamental disrespect for the audience.

    I must point out that the big broadcast networks are VERY BAD about this, more so apparently than SyFy. I have been burned like this with Fox more than once.

  53. I have three thoughts on this:

    1) I would like to see a provision in a show’s distribution contract that if they are canceled with less than X amount of notice, then they have the option to make a feature length film to tie up any plotlines.

    2) It seems to me that the prevailing TV model is based on a short-term /high gain model, rather than a long-term /steady income model. Star Trek comes to mind here- spinoffs aside, look at the convention/fan scene: the show has literally created an entire industry of goods and events- and Paramount gets a cut of every dollar. I propose that Paramount’s earnings SINCE 1971 are a better model than American Idol, which I honestly can’t imagine anyone selling T-shirts of in 2039. Admittedly, not every show can be Star Trek. Basic argument: a small, dedicated following will produce more income over time than a large and fickle one.

    3) I think that the most revolutionary change to television will come as a complete surprise via new technology. I suspect that in 20 years, there will be a single satellite based service that will replace TV, internet, and phone as we currently understand them. The technology is already merging and speeding up to a point where predictions become sketchy at best.

    Perhaps new shows will air as soon as produced (rather than after a full season is in the can), and the viewer will be able to see how much funding the next episode has, giving the power to extend or cancel directly to the viewer, rather than a network.

    Just thinking out loud here.

    1. One incredibly MASSIVE tech revolution has already swept the TV landscape, forever altering our business model and changing viewer behavior: the DVR. I’m sure more will happen soon. I’m pretty sure 3D isn’t going to be one, but I could be wrong ;)

  54. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t watched more than five minutes of an episode of Ghost Hunters and haven’t watched a “professional” wrestling match in over 25 years unless you count watching “The Wrestler”.

    Maybe millions of people know something that I’m missing out on.

  55. Why don’t you at least cancel shows with dignity? Instead of cutting off the show in the middle of a story how about going with the model that comic books use: You get 13 issues, if you are doing well after the 8th one you get tenure, if not you get 5 episodes to wrap everything up. Seems like a good system. It would probably make people less angry when their shows get canceled.

  56. I still don’t see why the 6 to 13 episode series is so forbidden in the US. If it does well in 6 eps (with a self-contained storyline) why can’t it be brought back in another quarter. Seeing all the split-season shenanigans that are going on these days, wouldn’t it make sense to run shorter series to fill in programming gaps?

    Are syndication quantities of shows really that necessary?

    Being Human, Primeval, Demons. Three UK series with short runs their first season. Being Human and Primeval were popular and returned with another short series each. Demons wasn’t so it didn’t return, however it did finish its 6 episode run so there was a sense of closure at least.

  57. Again, really appreciate all the thought and effort you’re putting into your tenure here. :)

    I’m amazed by the people who somehow can’t connect that dots that they only have quality TV from Netflix BECAUSE the television model does IN FACT work sometimes. “I’m getting rid of cable, you TV bozos are irelevant! But I’ll watch what you do somewhere else!” D’oh!

    1. I’m amazed by the people who somehow can’t connect that dots that they only have quality TV from Netflix BECAUSE the television model does IN FACT work sometimes.

      You shouldn’t be. We get that the programs we like on NetFlix come from the networks. I personally pay for NetFlix instead of cable (and recommend it to my friends) because I want to directly pay for the kind of programming I watch, and I want the entity that provides that programming to know exactly what I watch, how I watch it, and whether or not I liked it (hey NetFlix, break down the stars rating so I can rate various aspects of the show!).

      My hope is that NetFlix or someone like them will eventually realize that they can make money direct-marketing exclusive niche content. Not huge gobs of money, but enough to keep a decent team employed and supplying great stories to dedicated fans.

      When I see the effects that one guy with After Effects, Boujou, Photoshop and Blender (or whatever tool chain he prefers) can put together in a few days… I dunno, I just wonder what 10 people, a great writer, a warehouse, some prosumer video equipment and a small budget (say, $2m) could put together in a year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could do something at least as entertaining as Bab5 or Sanctuary (both of which are notable for their use of painfully obvious but acceptable CGI).

  58. Craig, obviously you should replace your current staff with boingboing commenters, as they apparently know far more about programming for a television network than you or yours. ;)

    I appreciate reading these articles from your perspective.

  59. what ever happened to the ‘mini-series’ ? … seemed there were tons of them when i was a kid or even 10-15 years ago when i worked at a local station.

    seems the only ‘mini-series’ we get these days are set-up not as a literal mini-series… but as ‘back-door pilots’. i’m much less likely to even bother with one of these new-style mini-series when it is pretty much guaranteed to have an inane cliffhanger ending with the possibility of it never getting resolved. (see : Virtuality)

    some of the programming decisions made this season are driving me bonkers too. i’m looking in the general direction of ABC and their stupid decision to have a 3-month hiatus on both FlashForward and V. why?!

    i will echo the sentiments of those UK 6-episodes series though. Spaced / original Office / Black Books / IT Crowd / etc… all had limited run series with consistently enjoyable episodes and managing to tell a full story. it works there (albeit the BBC is a bit different than networks in the states). has anyone actually tried it here? without making season 2 being a full 22 episodes?

    another thing mentioned that bears repeating… the decision to make every single series have arc storytelling is getting a little old. i am another person that will literally not bother to watch a new show that is an arc if i suspect it might get prematurely canceled. why would i want to invest my time in something like that? been burned too many times (and probably again on the aforementioned FF / V… shouldn’t have bothered i’m thinking).

    what ever happened to shows with self-contained episodes? like MacGuyver? Quantum Leap? ST:TNG? Knight Rider? The A-Team? etc etc etc. (i guess a lot of dramas might still be this way? or police procedurals? don’t know… don’t watch those shows…)

    one show that lacks any major pervasive arc-iness that i enjoyed this season was “Human Target”. i could watch it like i *used* to watch TV. miss an episode? watch out of order? not a huge deal.

    another was the second half of that new Knight Rider. the early episodes with 15 characters and some overarching conspiracy were absolutely horrible. then they seemingly realized what the original show was about… a guy… a car… couple supporting cast members… and made self-contained episodes. those were honestly pretty good. but it was in cancellation mode by that time. probably based on the earlier episodes being complete stinkers.

  60. Craig, you’re like a giant magnet that walked into a room of iron-laden shit. The fact that you’re not the magnet that killed all these folks favorite shows, seems to be an insight that’s generally missing (though to be fair, you kind of asked for it, as your article speaks of all TV execs as the same rational creature).

    1. Well, it is commenting on the Internet which….is what it is. Add to that someone from BIG MEDIA talking to readers of BoingBoing, and it’s pretty much exactly what I expected ;) I think it’s fun and I’m happy to have the discussions, and if passions run high (or nuclear) that’s all right. Good stuff all around.

  61. One simple solution I have found that really works for me.
    If I find a new show I am interested in I record every episode of the season. I do not watch them or get involved with the characters. I wait to see if the network renews for a second season. If they renew the series then and only then will I sit back and watch the show.
    And if they cancel the show I simply delete all of the recorded episodes and that is that.

  62. With all these hands, eyes and hearts that go towards creating a TV show, how is it that Two and A Half Men made it to air?

    Surely someone thought; ‘wow, this is a steaming pile of ****’

  63. “That’s not to say you should feel sorry for anyone working in TV. You shouldn’t. It’s a ridiculously fun industry to work in, and the pay is pretty good.”

    Eh. It’s a living. Not always “ridiculously fun.” Like a lot of jobs, it depends greatly on the individual situation. Mostly it depends on who you’re working with. And the pay can be quite good, if you’re Above The Line, or you’ve got a union gig. For the non-union BTL guys, they’d better really love what they’re doing, because their 60-70 hour weeks bring home what a schoolteacher makes in 30 hours. When kids fresh outta film school ask my advice I tell them they’d better shoot for the moon and write or direct or produce, or find a craft that they really love, otherwise they should GTFO and start selling real estate or used cars or somesuch.

    And when das memsen said, “When fans bitch and moan about their tv shows, 95% of the time, it can be traced to a network decision, not one by the writers or producers of the show,” I had to chuckle. Again, it all depends on the people. I’ve worked on shows that were well and truly supported by the network suits. I’ve worked on shows that were driven into the ditch by “brilliant” showrunners who, despite studio and network support and the blind adoration of legions of fans who loved the *last* show they ran, simply didn’t have a clue WTF they were doing.

    There’s idiocy to spare throughout the industry. Certainly the writers and directors generally have a better sense for story decisions; that’s why they’re writers and directors. Storytelling is the entirety of their job. Network execs have a slightly different mandate: to put the most profitable show on the air, as opposed to putting the best story on the air. In some ideal situations, these goals overlap, and the best execs have strong story instincts.

    But “ideal situations” can be few and far between in the realm of television. The old saw about “Theatre is Life, Film is Art, Television is Furniture” is less true than it was, say, 30 years ago… but it could just be that today, theatre is dead, film is crap, and TV is better than it used to be.

  64. Does anyone else not need the live-action and big budgets? Anime seems to be onto something with a lower-cost model of realizing stories. I can only hope that the tools develop further to unshackle the writers from the bloated production machine.

  65. My question is then why do some ridiculous sure-to-fail shows are approved by the networks? (Like for example, the GEICO cavemen? You didn’t have to be a genius to figure out that was going nowhere)

  66. “(Sidebar: Unless I miss my guess, at this point a BoingBoing commenter will chime in that this is the whole problem with the system…it’s huge and bloated with way too many layers of middle-men. And yes, it certainly seems that way. So far every attempt by anyone to not do all of this stuff hasn’t worked. No one’s found a way for indie TV to be successful the way indie films can be. I’d love to see it happen. If you can figure it out, give me a call.)”

    what about Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog? they made money and an awesome show, all “indie”.

  67. as a compromise why don’t we just let cancelled shows have 1 episode to tie up the story.

    that is all we ask.

  68. “For me personally, I just get frustrated with how quickly some shows are canceled. Its much more prominent on network TV, where the bar is set so much higher. The industry has changed a lot and I realize that, but it makes it so difficult for really well written, quality shows to make it, when they’re only given a few episodes to do it in. I’d just love to see the networks actually give a few new shows each season a chance to find their audience. After all, they’re the professionals, they should be able to spot the shows that have potential, given enough time”

    That frustrates me too. It seems like ABC has a real problem with this. They are more willing than other broadcast networks to try something different but at the same time they are often quick to cancel those shows or switch around the timeslots before they can build an audience.

  69. I’m glad my friend referred this topic to me because I was starting to believe that only the shows I liked were getting canceled. Namely three shows I really enjoyed and all of them were canceled or will be; Arrested Development, Firefly and LotS. What burns me up is that in the case of Firefly and Arrested Development, movies were or will be made of them both, how can that be? I appreciate the opportunity to vent my frustration at the obvious conspiracy against me.

  70. This has become a great thing to read now – a good article, but as always happens, the comments section makes this great.
    I have to agree with cmpalmer, daedalus, das memsoen and Mike the Bard’s #2 comment, among a lot of others’ comments here, and while not knocking Craig here (it takes BALLS to do something like this, especially on a cool site like this, IMO), I do question a lot of the practices in the industry itself.
    We almost all work in fields or industries where things are they way they are, because there are so many “best practices”, “proven formulas”, “that’s the way we’ve always done it, don’t buck the system” and my all time favorite response to people with new ideas: “if you know so much about all this, go start your own company”.
    But I do see a trend here, especially as someone who, like cmpalmer, hasn’t watched a lot of tv since before I got my license (and when I do, it’s usually Adult Swim, THC, NatGeo, ComCen, etc.), what I see is that the people who do watch a lot of tv are the brain dead, which is the reason that all you see on tv anymore are reality shows, competition reality shows, competition starmaker shows, really bad sitcoms and hospital/cop/gov’t bureau dramas, talk shows and infomercials on most big networks.

    The newspapers and magazines right NOW are teetering on the edge of oblivion, and what will still be left in print? The Enquirers, the People – the idiot fodder. I really think that in the future, tv will fall the way of print if they keep this course, and all that will be left is the worst of what it had to offer, because the industry chased the almighty advertising dollar, for the short term gain instead of long term survival.
    It takes the advertisers’ money to do things, but this could be changed, even by one single, smart and brave channel, like Fox made it back in the late ’80’s by being more radical about what they showed than the big 3. The problem is, a lot of channels have done this, but once any of them are big enough, they are bought (or recognized) and turned into the same formulated pile of crap.

    It seems to be a common practice, this death cycle, from the fast food places who constantly run out of stuff, hire people that mess up people’s orders and cut quality, to the car companies that lay off the people that actually build the cars that make the company money (instead of laying off the execs making the bad decisions), to just about every company that’s more worried about this quarter’s bottom line than the long term stability of the company, its rep and its stocks.

    It’s not going to be easy, but until someone comes up with a better idea (that can find the funding), I don’t see network tv and its fledgeling channels lasting as they are for a very long time. Unfortunately, I think that most of the tv channels know who their audience is, and caters to them with the crap that they put out. And the rest of us find other ways to stay occupied and entertained, and spend our money accordingly, as the advertisers will realize at some point, while the networks keep chasing our coveted demographic, that they keep pushing away or pissing off.

    Surely the advertisers can’t have ALL the money out there…

  71. Sorry, but I do not buy it. I grew up in the early years of tv and worked in the industry as a young adult. I remember when every show aired 39 new episodes per season with 13 weeks of reruns during the summer. I remember outstanding repertory shows such as Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, and Studio One that introduced such names as Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands. I remember when the only reality tv was quiz shows. I remember when the limit of commercial minutes allowed during a 1-hour show was 6. The ratings system has always been skewed and now with the advent of online streaming, dvr recording, and dvd rental, it’s worse than ever. The 18-49 demographic became the target audience at the time when the baby boomers were in that age range and were the largest segment of the population. So, no, I don’t buy it.

  72. That’s why I use the following strategy when a new show comes along on a channel that is notorious for canceling good ones (SyFy, Fox, etc.):

    1) Record the entire first season on TiVo.
    2) Wait to see if they plan on renewing it or not.
    3) If so, watch the first episode or two. If I don’t like it, delete all the rest.
    3) If I like it and it isn’t being canned, watch the whole season after it has ended.

    Since Nielsen doesn’t measure my viewing habits, whether I watch the commercials or not has no impact on a show’s survivability. Therefore, I choose to not watch them (or station identification bits).

  73. “How would you do it?”

    I helped build and maintain large, complex corporate websites for almost 10 years, including some big media-related ones (ex. Cartoon Network).

    Once a website has been going for a while, adding something like SyFy does for its shows is a relatively simple matter. What takes forever is getting the necessary text and art from the various departments, and working through the chain of managerial approvals.

    Overall, most delays come from having far too many cooks in the kitchen, including many with a lot of power and no common (or artistic) sense. That’s the problem with broadcast television, and many commercial-supported cable/satellite networks in general – far too many ill-informed decision makers getting in the way of the people with the talent and knowledge to make something good.

  74. Apartments have first and last month’s rent, so should TV shows to wrap up story lines.
    (Or a “TV-movie”-style ending.)
    I’m thinking of you, Fox, and Sarah Connor Chronicles! :-(

    Corporate media, stop treating viewers like numbe…
    oh, never mind, you can’t fight your nature.

  75. Haha – and interestingly enough (as some comments point towards), this other Boing Boing article HAS to have at least some bearing on this subject, whether about tv specifically or industries as a whole:

    It’s been done so many times in so many areas, it only takes one innovative idea and enough backing for one person/company to change entire industries – Bill Gates, George Lucas, The Beatles, Tesla/Edison, The U.S.A., there are many examples.

    Another telling thing is if you look at how much advertisers pump into the networks to advertise, then look at the intelligence level of most of the commercials that they pay ad firms to create to air for that money, you can see the ageless intelligence demographic that they’re really looking for – fools and their money that are easily divided. By hooking those commercials with similarly dumbed down programming, it’s definitely their best target for that money, and they know that so that won’t change, but I think it will eventually leave only that audience and the shows they watch on tv, as more people find other venues for entertainment, and advertisers will have to figure out better ways to try to convince people to buy their product or service.

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