Sunday, March 16, 2014


It was somewhat big news to hear that a network show was given a sudden three-year extension, although no one's surprised that the show was "The Big Bang Theory". It's number one in the ratings, number one in syndication, which is in many ways more important nowadays than the weekly rating, and frankly, is certainly by any standard one of the best shows on television, and it has been for quite a while, and on top of that, it's now their second three-year extension. I've discussed the show many times myself, but this is something that's come up a lot more often, 'cause so rarely has there such been little correlation between the consistently good or great shows on TV, and the extension periods of a show, that, frankly, this "The Big Bang Theory" extension is quite an anomaly, especially on network. I used to love a trivia fact like, "The Odd Couple" never had more than a 13-episode contract with ABC, 'cause it was a rare exception of a show that wasn't a major hit until reruns, and happened to keep getting lucky whenever the show had to keep getting renewed that it was thought of as the best option to fill a half hour to just keep ordering the show. Even great shows with devoted following like "Parks and Recreation" aren't just going year-by-year, they seem to be going week-by-week sometimes, and somehow always end up in constant sudden hiatuses. Also suddenly at alarming rates, are the decisions that networks make on shows, and paradoxically, this is occurring on both network and cable series. Nobody noticed except me that, earlier in the week, A&E, a network which has been desperate and constantly searching for new programs, particularly dramas over the recent years, pulled their newest show, "Those Who Kill", after just two episodes. That was a show that, like many cable series, had already shot it's entire season order, granted it was a mid-season show order and only an eight-to-ten episode arc, but in the cable world, it was still had eight-episodes to go, and involved a long-form story arc. And frankly, I was a fan of it; I actually liked the mysterious Chloe Sevigny as the detective character who's both obsessed and bloodthirsty about serial killers, and likely came from a family of serial killers, as a more intriguing rebuttal to the overwrought "True Detective". (Yeah, you read that right, I'm the one that didn't fall in love with "True Detective" like everyone else did. Not that it was bad, but it wasn't as good as most claimed.) It wasn't doing particularly well in the ratings, but consider how quickly cable networks, have been willing to suddenly give and buy extra seasons of shows. Starz's "Boss" got a second season renewal after only the first episode aired. (The show then was cancelled after only two seasons as ratings and intrigue continued to drop) Now, A&E's promised to find time and eventually air the remaining episodes of "Those Who Kill", but even still, it seemed like quite a stretch to suddenly make such a decision to pull an entire series order after just two episodes, especially in a time when network ratings have less and less importance anymore, it seems particularly strange to simply kill a show that quickly, but it's not as uncommon anymore.

Shows are getting pulled after one or two episodes more often than ever. Used to be, a show that's struggling, especially if it is a good show, might get a push by the network, like when NBC aired a whole night of "Scrubs", or when HBO would show marathons of "Six Feet Under" midseason for people to catch up quickly. (Hell, any reality show on cable anymore basically gets a marathon lead in for them.) It's weird, 'cause this would seem like the perfect time for network executives to be as cautious as possible with shows, especially new shows, and see if there is the possibility of improvement. Very rarely are shows, even special shows executing at their highest possible level in the beginning of it's run. Look at "The Big Bang Theory", that show didn't catch it's strive until at least a year and a half in. It got lucky, it was decent enough, and got helped by being on the number one ratings network, around already top-rated shows, before it branched out.

Well, we all know the main reasons why networks aren't giving shows the time to find an audience is because of the old system of network shows needing to make money, and the ratings are still the determinate factor in that in that, and that system really needs to start changing soon, but still, you'd think networks, if they really were behind shows enough to make such commitments, even 1/3 season or mid-season replacements...- I mean, every half-hour or so of primetime television, at a minimum, cost about a million dollars an episode a minimum, and that's an animated show some times that by 2, 2 1/2, maybe 3 or 4 for an hour-long drama episode; that's a lot of money and commitment to put into a show, and then, give up on it like that. Especially when, there seems to be relatively little harm to showing the rest of the series at least, and really very little on standby to replace/take up the now-empty timeslot. (It's not like A&E can just show a "The Big Bang Theory" rerun when a "We Are Men" stumbles out of the ratings block, then falls off a cliff.)

Besides that, what kind of pressure does it put on a series/show that has to be fighting for it's life every week? I mean, half the biggest stars on television are basically in fear for their job on a day-by-day basis. I mean, good shows can thrive in that situation, but look at a show like "Up All Night" for instance, that was forced to revamp it's series to the point where practically nothing about the original plot of the series remain by the time it got canceled. Actually, that show wasn't canceled in the traditional sense, the stars of the show starting quitting after the series just kept falling further and further apart, to the point where even they had had enough. But then again, an early episode of "Parks and Recreation," and you see a show that didn't so much change, but seemed to evolve and grow. (Or, to a lesser extent, "The Big Bang Theory")  The magic formula to how a network treats or reacts to a show seems to be just as strange and random as whether or not or how a great show can seem to come together with the writing, the casting, the style of filming, the timeslot, etc. The other show I always think about with this as the extreme example of taking time to pull out a great show from what seems like nothing was "Night Court". Great show, kinda gets forgotten in time, but that show took about four seasons just to formulate a regular cast. Markie Post was so desired for the Public Defender role that they decided to have a rotating random cast for the first two seasons of the show until her previous show "The Fall Guy" would either cut her loose from her contract or get cancelled (A double-booking pilot situation nightmare that seems to occur more often now as more shows are on the chopping block regularly, 'causing actors to have to go for second and thirds series parts more than ever before as backups), they also then cut out Karen Austin's character as a court clerk who was annoyed she didn't get the judgeship that Harry Anderson's character got instead, and replaced her with Charles Robinson, who got cancelled off the critically-acclaimed but low-rated "Buffalo Bill". Then, the most famous necessary cast changes was the deaths of Selma Diamond, and her replacement Florence Halop as bailiffs in consecutive seasons leading to rethinking that part entirely and casting Marsha Warfield in an entirely different role-type for the show. If a show required that many planned and unplanned changes over the course of four seasons, it probably wouldn't make the air now. Now, people think of the show as having lasted a season or two too long.

That's for a sitcom that probably has a few episodes in the can, plus needs to prepare and/or make more over the coming weeks to shift and change with the ratings/changes/schedules if needed, what about this other trend of preparing whole seasons before airing them in one large sum like on cable or worst, on the internet. It's one thing if you have to pull the plug on a really bad show on TV, but a bad series on Netflix or Hulu or whatever, is really screwed. Now you're going out of your way to watch a whole series that sucks; that's gotta be worst. Now you're really investing your time, instead of having the ability to flip channels and come across and maybe "Discover" a good show that's under-the-radar at the moment. Where's that opportunity now? If you're not on CBS, or a cable reality show, that opportunity's basically gone now. They don't even show summer reruns most of the time anymore. I mean, by the time you change the channel from "2 Broke Girl$" to see what else is on, and it's already canceled anymore.

I don't exactly know what the solution is, but it seems more and more like the normal fluidity of the television primetime lineup, isn't particularly natural anymore. I know, there's always been good shows and bad shows, and sometimes a good one gets canceled and a bad one lasts too long, but the way the television lineups seem more randomly and chaotic than ever before, it's both an accomplishment and an anomaly that a show would be a true constant anymore, and seem like it legitimately earned that spot as well, not just in ratings but also in quality. Sometimes it's hard to even tell what the core of a channel even is anymore, or what they're trying to do other than fill time. And some of the choices, just seem random and illogical, moreso than normal. You can usually and a pattern to everything, but lately,- maybe it's a matter or more networks and options, and that inherently weakens the field of quality or it's bad programming or advertising or scheduling or strategizing or a combination.... well, it's no wonder the job of network president has such a traditionally short lifespan for most people, especially these days.

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