Canceling a TV show: The network's POV

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 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.)

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.