May Sweeps were here. This was the time networks announce their projected Fall shows. This was called the “Upfront” schedule. They announced shows who got renewals, which mean they’re safe and keep a spot in the schedule, although their time and day may be changed. This was also the time when shows find out, if they’re cancelled. The storylines of those cancelled programs were wrapped up in final episodes leading to their series finale. Whether it was a freshman show, which gave it a good try, or a veteran show, that gave it their all, what can we say?
Those shows that awaited their fate were called “on the bubble” ; it’ was up to the network either to burst it or keep it afloat. What shows stayed? What shows were dropped?
We’ll look into the anatomy of a cancelled show by doing an autopsy. There’s at least thirteen factors that go into the decision, determined by the networks. Usually a show is dead, if it met one, some or heaven forbid all of them.
One by one, an explanation of these unlucky thirteen factors, which are divided into eight categories: DOA (pre-production problems, script and cast changes), Corpse (not enough buzz and hype, postponing the return date, no lead-in), Incision (schedule changes, hiatus), Diagnosis (no additional episodes or full season orders and early renewals), Dissection (cut back on episodes orders/premature orders), Burial (pulled from schedule early in advance) and Casket, (pulled from schedule effective immediately, all leading to Flatlines (ratings).
DOA: Pre-production Problems, Script/Cast Changes
Pre-Production problems are the first sign. If there’s trouble, even before a program hits the small screen, that’s an indication of a DOA show. It’s like a soft bleep on the heart monitor’s screen, signalling a weak heart. Normally this happens before you even shoot the pilot.
When you hear that a primary cast member has quit for “unspecified reasons”, or “creative differences”, it means something’s wrong. This is the last thing you want to happen. A recast is needed. It takes time to find someone right for the part and that can take a lot of time and money for all involved. In a crunch, if they appeared in only a few scenes, a character may be cut altogether. If not, a lot of time and money will be lost.
Money and salary concerns often plague TV shows while in production. If there’s a strike, it can cause a major upheaval in a network’s season To prevent the effect of writer’s strike most shows after they end their season’s run, they start their production earlier than August, so that they have a stock pile of shows taped in advance in case of problems.
Location is another concern, when the “real” setting isn’t available, or the “fake” setting isn’t done on time. Normally, it can be resolved promptly, if a previously used set or a new location can be found.
Cast and script changes happen during production or post-production. If a storyline’s weak, or if the show’s losing interest with fans, sometimes a “tweak” to revamp it is necessary. If it proves worthwhile with improved ratings, then it was worth the effort; otherwise, it’s a lost cause.
The Corpse: Not Enough Buzz/Hype, Postponing Return Date, No “Lead-ins”
If a show doesn’t have enough buzz or hype, the show loses its sizzle. First, advertising the show via commercials needs to increase. If it’s on the Fox network, ads should appear on sister channels like FX, Fox News Channel and Fox Sports Network. If NBC, it could be advertised on Bravo, Telemundo, USA, CNBC and MSNBC a lot. For all of the other networks,there’s a need to be twice as much advertising on the home network.
Second, commercials on radio stations need to be heard, at least, six times a day. Plus, the networks put out ads in newspapers or magazines, or in TV Guide, the trifecta of Sweeps periods.
Word of mouth through websites or blogs can also spread the word, that the show’s a “must-see” show, along with emails, faxes, texting, and phone calls to generate interest. If there’s a e-newsletter, viewers could sign up for it with instant reminders.
Another way to create interest in viewership is through talk shows. Actors bringing clips of the show is very helpful, especially when it’s a new show. The audience will be interested, especially if it’s a really funny clip for comedy, or has a shocking twist for dramas.
A star who has a large fan base will help create interest and increase ratings. This will better the chances of a second (or subsequent) season. If they do all or some of this, hopefully enough buzz will be created.
Some shows don’t make it to their full season, especially if it has a weak “lead-in”. Everyprogam wants to follow a program with high ratings. And the reason for that, is because it had no “lead-in.” A “lead-in” is a show that comes beore another show, that has a high following with stellar ratings. It’s best for a weak show to be hooked up with a strong “lead-in, which helps in the long run, and stay that way for subsequent seasons.
Another factor is prolonging or postponing either the return or premiere date. This is also not a good sign. It’s an act of bad faith by the network. When shows are placed on a short hiatus, (especially during Sweeps), or Christmas break, they usually have a return date in mind. Fox’s “Standoff” was originally to return in January. When January came around, it changed to March 30th. It was postponed again to the following week. Now, June 8th is the return date. This says the network doesn’t have much faith in thte program. The chances are good the show won’t come back at all or will be burned off quickly. It has been cancelled.
Incision: Schedule Changes, Hiatus
Sometimes the networks have a change of heart and move a show in the schedule. That is not always good for a show. Take “Crossing Jordan”, for example. For the past two years, it had stellar ratings on Sunday nights at 10 P.M. When NBC acquired Sunday Night Football, they decided to have a block of reality shows on Sunday nights, and moved “Crossing Jordan” to Wednesdays, to create a block of dramas. “Crossing Jordan” ran into trouble, and is now cancelled, after six years. If a show’s doing fine at its regular time slot at night, don’t change it. An exception would be if the show dropped a great deal in the ratings.
A hiatus can be either a good thing or a bad thing. A major factor is it depends how long a show’s pulled before it returns. You want your viewers to keep a show in mind. People like the routine of their viewing. The shorter the hiatus, the better the chance of returning. Anything longer than three months is a sure bet, that it won’t be back. Sweeps time is when a network wants its highest viewership. The number of TV sets tuned to each network’s programming helps its advertising revenue. The ad cost around very popular shows are higher than the average. During Sweeps, programs have guest stars or some gimmick to bring more people to their show. During this time, that many weak series are pulled for awhile, so they don’t have a negative effect on the potential revenue.
Networks know, that during any Sweeps period, ratings are a big factor. Additional episodes are ordered in November, full seasons are ordered in February, and early renewals are picked up before or in May. Networks know, they won’t chance it, by putting a weak show during Sweeps, since it’ll decrease in ratings, and drop the show. Those shows normally return in 4-6 weeks time, depending on the date.
It’s very problematic for any show taken off the air, especially during an extended hiatus time period, because people forget about the show, or forget the storylines.
To prevent this from letting it happening, sometimes they re-air shows, or viewers can watch it free online for full episodes, or download it via Itunes, to refresh their memory.
Diagnosis: No Additional Episodes/Full Season Orders/Early Renewals
Another bad sign is if during a season, a network doesn’t order additional scripts or a full season. It all depends on the ratings, whether or not to pull it, or place it “on the bubble”. Whatever episodes are left unaired can either burned off later, shown online, or used in the summer when viewership is down, or is a decision left to the programmers. Another sign of trouble, is if there’s not an early renewal by mid-April.
Dissection: Cut Back on Episode Orders/Premature Orders
Another red flag from the networks is ordering a premature order of episodes, or cutting back on the episodes. For premature orders, they might like the script before it hits the screen. This decision shouldn’t happen, at least, until after the first episode airs, and the ratings are in. If fair or very good, go for it; if less than average, rescind the order. Networks shouldn’t give the green light, unless it has good ratings. Otherwise it’s a waste of production time and money, when still in production. If a network cuts back on an episode order, that’s weak too.
Burial: Pulled from the Schedule Early on Advance
When shows are pulled early, it’s usually because of ratings, which causes it to lose its heartbeat. They’re usually replaced by another show.
Casket: Pulled from the Schedule Effective Immediately
If a program has been pulled effective immediately, it doesn’t mean cancellation, technically. Before they’re actually buried, it’s not considered legally dead, unless everyone’s released from their contract. Networks like to leave their options open, so until they’re positive the show won’t be coming back; they are considered pulled not cancelled. The decision becomes official when announced at this week’s “Upfronts.”
Now the final factor: the dreaded ratings. Take all of the factors into consideration, and see if it met with any one of those criterias for a buried show. If it has, the ratings had a huge effect on it, along with feedback and interest.
There are at least four main slotted categories, besides cancelled/ending shows, renewed shows, and summer/returning shows. If you wanted to place a bet on these shows, there are the categories with a show that fits, for example. Certain Bets are shows like “Cold Case”; Good Bets are shows like “Ghost Whisperer”, On the Fence are shows like “Crossing Jordan”; and Almost No Chance are shows like “The Nine”.
The Last Rites
If a show is cancelled after one year or many years, it shouldn’t end with a cliffhanger, which is unfair to viewers, and misleading in leaving them believing it’ll return next fall. Shows should wrap up storylines, tie up any loose ends, and leave on a good pleasing note.
If you want to save your favorite show, get creative. Join a campaign. Sign petitions, call them, write or email letters. For example, last year, “Cloud Watchers”, had a “Look to the Skies” campaign for “Veronica Mars”, and collected $5,000. On May 8th, 2006, the network executives received packages with binoculars and flight plan information. On the day of season two’s finale, a rented plane flew over with a banner that read “Renew Veronica Mars! CW 2006!”
“Cloud Watchers” have also donated 500 DVD sets of “Veronica Mars” to libraries in all 50 states, and the top 100 Nielsen markets. This year, they hit New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago to stick, staple, and stack 30,000 flyers. It helped advertising for the May 1st series return from hiatus. Unfortunately, it didn’t help save Veronica Mars. It got cancelled.
So keep these key notes in mind. Keep track of your shows with this checklist, so you can foretell the fate of your favorite show.