Tag Archives: Upfronts

CBS vs. End Times: Notes on the Apparent Death of Limitless

If you’re CBS, End Times—the term TV journalists have adopted for describing the collapse of traditional broadcast viewership and the advertising revenues drawn from it—represents a problem.

CBS’ business model, more than the other broadcast networks, has been built around broad-skewing procedurals, generating large total audiences in live, same-day ratings. The network is then able to sell these procedurals both internationally and into syndication, markets that are looking for content that is proven to draw large audiences.

But in End Times, these types of shows are increasingly rare, and same-day (and Live+3) ratings are declining across the board. However, for some CBS shows, this is not an immediate problem: same-day ratings declines for shows that have already run for multiple seasons and sold into syndication—like Elementary or Hawaii Five-0, for example—are totally fine, since CBS will eventually make money on additional episodes through existing syndication deals on that content even if they earn less from advertising revenue. CBS’ problem, rather, is that it becomes tougher to sell shows into syndication when they’re launching in End Times, and where shows are lucky to be drawing above a 1.5 in the demo (or above a 2.0 in Live+3).

And thus a show like Limitless was caught in a bind. On the one hand, its ratings were not terrible in the context of End Times—new shows with lower demographic ratings are getting picked up by other networks, and its numbers were not dramatically different from other new shows at CBS or the other shows in the 10/9c timeslot. It’s also owned by the studio, which means they would benefit from its long-tail in other markets.

However, on the other hand, creating long-term value for CBS requires the show to be enough of a hit to generate a long-tail market, and those markets have not yet reached the point where they are desperate enough to invest in a first-season show that is very clearly not garnering a broad audience. CBS knows ratings are unlikely to increase in subsequent seasons—it almost never happens—and there is no questioning that the show’s after-market value has been irrevocably damaged, and so CBS would appear to be doing something objectively rational in the context of End Times by canceling Limitless: Deadline reports that it’s unlikely to move forward, and is being “shopped” (although I can’t think of any outlet that would pick up a first season cast-off).

I would be sad about this situation under any circumstance as a fan of the show, as I wrote about at The A.V. Club on a few occasions, but End Times is not the only context here. The other context is what else CBS is picking up instead of Limitless. Among these projects is a MacGyver reboot that was ordered to pilot without a script, went through extensive reshoots, and fired all but two of its cast members and hired a new writer in the process of being picked up to series. The network’s pickups are also expected at this point include Code Black, a freshman medical procedural that CBS co-produces with ABC Studios, and which drew a lower average rating than Limitless. Suddenly, what appeared to be an objective financial decision tied to shifts in the TV marketplace becomes something different: how are two actors and a franchise name worth gambling on compared to a show that grew and evolved over its first season, and how does a co-production beat out an in-house production with higher ratings in an End Times environment where ownership was expected to matter more than ever?

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The C(riminally) W(asteful): The Case for Saving Life Unexpected

The Case for Saving Life Unexpected

May 14th, 2010

This year, it seems like everything is getting renewed before I can talk about saving it.

Upfronts season is usually about sweating it out until the eleventh hour waiting to see if your favourite shows are going to get canceled, which means it’s a good opportunity to write pieces about why they deserve a second/third/fourth/etc. season. Last year it was NBC’s Chuck, but this year the show has been a safe bet for renewal for months and officially got the pick up earlier tonight, which is good (as I like the show) but considerably less exciting.

One show I was ready to write about was Human Target, one of very few “bubble” shows that I watched and was quite passionate about continuing. I was going to talk about how the show had a strong season finale (which I was late watching and never blogged about), and how there’s a lot of potential in both the premise and the cast, and I was going to lecture FOX on how they need to show faith in series with that sort of potential when they have Bones in their lineup holding its own on Thursdays despite early struggles. However, FOX took all the wind out of my sails by, you know, picking up Human Target without much fanfare earlier in the week.

Perhaps it’s for the best, though, as I can focus on the one bubble show that I’d say I’d be legitimately angry to see canceled early next week. It isn’t that Life Unexpected is my favourite show on television, or even that it had a particularly spectacular first season (it was good, not great); rather, it’s that it’s a young show with a strong cast that grew beyond its premise to become a solid drama series, and it has a great deal of creative and commercial potential yet untapped. And while The CW has been trapped within an identity crisis since its inception, that’s no excuse to turn away a show with the potential to grow into something which complements their brand just so that they can focus on “hype.”

The CW doesn’t need hype at this point, they need something capable of being fresh and standing out from their lineup marked by vapidity, nostalgia marketed to teenagers, and genre programs being run into the ground (exceptions made for Vampire Diaries and Supernatural within this description of their lineup). Life Unexpected is that show, and I really hope they come around to this fact before they make the same mistake they made last year.

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Beware, Beware the Hiatus ‘Til March: NBC’s Chuck Returns…in 2010

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Beware, Beware the Hiatus ‘Til March

Chuck Returns…in 2010

When Chuck was officially renewed a few days ago, I didn’t end up writing a piece about it: it wasn’t that the show wasn’t deserving of praise, or that I wasn’t excited by the announcement, but unlike the Dollhouse renewal it felt like a foregone conclusion, with every secret source and major news outlet reporting that it was about dotting the Is and crossing the Ts more than any serious finagling on behalf of the parties involved.

And sure enough, the New York Times today officially confirms that Chuck has been renewed by NBC, with the various catches reporter earlier in the week: a smaller budget, a shortened 13-episode order, and in a new twist the fact that one of the characters will actually work for Subway, a nod to the “eat at Subway” campaign that helped to save the show. However, the real twist is where the show is being positioned: Chuck will return in March, in its old timeslot of Mondays at 8pm, nearly eleven months after its second season finale, once the 2010 Vancouver olympics are done and over with.

It’s a decision that makes sense on some level, and certainly is better than getting no new episodes at all, but it also gives NBC a built-in excuse to not go any further with the series, even in its newly ad-supported form. But, like its titular hero, Chuck isn’t going to be a show to die easily, and even with the odds being stacked against it it’s hard not to celebrate an unlikely, but well deserved, Season Three.

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Upfronts Analysis: ABC Fall Schedule 2009-2010

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ABC Fall Schedule 2009-2010

May 19th, 2009

ABC is the one network this year whose strategy appears to be “let’s order a ridiculous number of new shows,” which is really quite interesting in this economic climate. The network isn’t in a bad position, per se, but its been through a rough development patch where this past year brought the failure of three out of four of its major sophomore series (Private Practice being the only survivor) as well as the failure of all but one of its midseason replacements (Castle being the only one who managed to pull it together, and even then only with the support of the Dancing with the Stars lead-in). Their staple shows have remained fairly strong, with Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters all remaining solid performers despite industry-wide drops in ratings, but they were in need of some new blood.

Their solution, however, is going to be a rather interesting experiment, especially when we consider the way in which the network is programming those new series, and just how many of them they have working for them: ordering a mix of legal, procedural, and science fiction dramas on top of four (count ’em) four new comedies, the network is banking on people being ready to laugh and, more importantly, to embrace shows in the 10pm timeslot with NBC out of the running.

Let’s take a gander at the highlights, shall we?

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The Imprint Lives On: FOX bets on Dollhouse Season 2

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The Imprint Lives On: Dollhouse Renewed

May 15th, 2009

After rumours earlier in the day were flying about via James Hibberd over at The Hollywood Reporter, the idea of a second season of Dollhouse actually became a probability as opposed to a pipe dream. Sure, the first season ended on a stronger note than it started on, giving us critical types a glimmer of potential that we could mentally build on in constructing a second season (Todd VanDerWerff has a great “Save this Show” piece over at The House Next Door), but its ratings were the series’ lowest yet, and for all the talk of DVR and Online viewers the fact of the matter is that advertisers care most about those shiny demographic numbers more than anything else.

But, for reasons that at this point remain mostly speculation, it appears that FOX has made the decision few expected them to make: within hours of the rumours first starting to spread around the web, word comes that it’s (more or less) official. Joss Whedon has bucked the trend (which really isn’t a trend considering it was only Firefly, but that was so tragic that it counts as three on its own) of network disappointment, and Dollhouse will be getting a second season of 13 episodes to air this Fall on Fridays. Let the rejoicing begin.

Well, let the rejoicing begin for anyone but the advertisers – and frankly, I’m tired of them rejoicing over the wrong shows, and it’s about time we won one for the good guys. And this truly is, in more ways than one, a victory for the internet, for fans, and for the value of television.

Just don’t count on a third season.

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Upfronts Analysis: FOX 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

“A Subtle Improvement”

FOX 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

In the past, I’ve complained a lot about FOX’s scheduling practices – rather than using their biggest shows to produce strong lead-ins for new shows that need attention, they have instead chosen a path wherein they waste it on reality shows or (what I consider to be) derivative comedies. And really, their fall schedule is always a little bit of a crapshoot: considering that American Idol isn’t on it, FOX is kind of hoping for subtle success before its juggernaut wins the season outright in a few months time.

This time around, I admire their scheduling far more – sure, it isn’t perfect by any means, and they’re only debuting two new shows, but there’s a smart decision that signifies that FOX is no longer being idiots about how to handle their top shows, and to create hit new shows in their place.

New Shows

Fringe – Tuesdays at 9

It has a big-budget pilot, Lost producer J.J. Abrams on board, and most importantly has the best slot on the schedule: the newly created spot post-House on Tuesday nights. This is a smart way to create a lead-in, without question – the only concern is that the two-hour pilot will have to air without a lead-in, so I almost wonder if FOX will divide it in two just to make sure the show doesn’t get off on a weak foot. (Final details of the schedule sees Fringe airing its two-hour premiere on August 26th).

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Upfronts Analysis – CBS Cancels ‘Moonlight’

Ladies and gentlemen, Les Moonves has a death wish.

There is no question that there is justifiable reason to cancel Moonlight, just as there was justifiable reason to cancel Jericho – they both suffered from low ratings, and in Moonlight’s case it never reached the early highs of Jericho’s run. The show was in creative turmoil from day one, barely settled on a cast in time to start shooting, and never became a buzzworthy drama (Something that CBS attributes to the show’s lack of creative vision). Plus, CBS set a high standard for Fridays last year when they canceled the fairly highly-rated “Close to Home” in favour of the vampire drama.

And yet, I don’t think they seem to understand how these shows, shows with passionate fan bases as opposed to broad ratings success, work. You would think that 10,000 lbs of peanuts would have taught them a lesson that a show with organized fans is probably not the kind of show you want to cancel, and definitely not the kind of show that you want to cancel in a strike-addled season that creates an instant handicap for any series.

Fans of Moonlight even saw this coming, emerging in a rare pre-cancellation drive for interest and support. Within months of its premiere, it was topping the charts at Hey! Nielsen, a site that Jericho fans once flocked to in support of their own show, and fans eventually organized a nationwide blood drive to help support the Red Cross and their favourite show. And yet, all of these efforts weren’t enough to save their favourite show from being booted off the airwaves.

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