Friday, October 21, 2011

The Panic Season has begun

It happens every year. No sooner does the fall television season begin than people start speculating about which show is going to be cancelled first. I've come up with a name for it. Panic Season, as in, how soon before network suits press the panic button to cancel underperforming shows?

The first victim of the new season was NBC's The Playboy Club. After all the hype, and the predictable whining from the Parents Television Council and like-minded groups about its content, ignoring the fact that it was airing at 10 pm (ET), when children aren't likely to be watching, Playboy failed to attract enough viewers to merit sticking around, much to the disappointment of Playboy founding father Hugh Hefner. Only 3 episodes aired, but consider the competition. CBS had the revival of Hawaii Five-0, in its 2nd season, and ABC has Castle. Factor in Monday Night Football on ESPN and Raw on USA, and you have a formula for disaster. Those considering hindsight have now said that Playboy should've been targeted for cable all along, instead of broadcast television. Putting it on NBC was sure to attract the wrath of the PTC and other moral watchdog groups.

NBC also tanked the American adaptation of the British series, Free Agents, which had Hank Azaria ("The Smurfs", The Simpsons) in a lead role. Luckily, both NBC casualties are presently available On Demand from your cable system, at least for the time being. Catch 'em if you can.

Meanwhile, ABC was banking on a revival of its own, relaunching Charlie's Angels. But the first mistake came when the series was plugged in on Thursdays instead of Wednesdays, where the original series was a ratings champ for much of its run. Also, the format was completely rehashed with the new Angels not being affiliated with the police at all, unlike the original series. Co-star Minka Kelly may've been the only other selling point, if but because at the time of the relaunch's official announcement, she was dating New York Yankees superstar Derek Jeter. The couple split right before Angels went on the air, and there went any real chance of the new version gaining any foothold, even though one of its executive producers, actress Drew Barrymore, co-starred in two feature film versions of Angels a decade ago.

Two weeks ago, MTV2 brought back Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors after a year's hiatus, during which time the promotion had long since completed production on seasons 2 & 3. The network stubbornly and stupidly kept the tapes in the vaults until they decided it was time to bring the show back. I reviewed the start of season 2 over in Saturday Morning Archives, and, admittedly, not much has changed. MTV made a similar mistake 4 1/2 years ago with Wrestling Society X, withholding episodes for a year before airing, then cancelling the show after about 2 months. This tme, rumors state that Masked Warriors may be saying "Adios!" after tomorrow's broadcast, further proof that "Empty-V" just doesn't care what their audience thinks. They're better served farming out Masked Warriors to corporate cousin Spike TV, so they can enable crossovers with TNA Impact Wrestling, which could certainly use the help, as would LLUSA.

The future isn't so rosy for another wrestling promotion, either. Micro Championship Wrestling, airing Wednesdays on TruTV, has gotten buried in the ratings, but then, that was to be expected opposite baseball's post-season tournament. The ratings for MCW, featuring Hulk Hogan, are far worse than Impact's on Thursdays on Spike, and Hogan's a prominent presence there, too. What does that say about the supposed power of Hulkamania in 2011, pilgrims? Anyway, Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter has speculated that MCW may also end up being cancelled.

In virtually every case, one part of the problem has been scheduling. It's either the wrong day or the wrong channel. In the case of LLUSA, it's a case of a network refusing to properly service the program's core audience and treating them with apathy and disrespect. I've often said that TNA often trips over its own shadows, but it seems they're not alone in doing that. Spike might be wise to pick up MCW, considering that co-executive producer Eric Bischoff, like Hogan, is employed by TNA, should TruTV (a TimeWarner network) go ahead and cancel the show.

Programming television never has been an exact science, but it wouldn't hurt if the people responsible for these decisions actually did a little more research into the products before taking a risk on being second-or-third guessed.


magicdog said...

Scheduling is only part of the problem.

A big part of it has to do with the lack of imagination in programming - such as the reboots of Charlie's Angels and Hawaii 5-0.

I've seen 5-0 and it's not bad, but not appointment TV with me (very little is nowadays). The Angels reboot is an insult, especially since the angels are ex-cons which goes against the original show's premise! That alone can turn off potential fans. It's also likely the premise is outdated for today's audiences.

Playboy was also pretty bad, the writing was ridiculous (a bunny kills a mob boss with a shoe and the FBI and the Mob don't swarm the club where he was last seen alive? Really??,) and in some areas completely inaccurate. My dad attended the NYC club back in the early 60s and from what he tells me, very little of what you saw in the pilot would have happened in reality. The PTC had nothing to worry about as the viewer would have passed out from boredom! Playboy just isn't what it used to be. The creators were only hoping to recreate the success of Mad Men (which itself I found rather boring) while Hugh Hefner tries to recapture some of his past glory.

Sometimes I think TV as we know it will end up vanishing in favor of complete PPV viewing or perhaps all end up as pay TV (like cable and dish). Much of what I see now is on DVD or downloaded off the computer anyway.

magicdog said...

Something I meant to add to my original post:

Another problem is due to the short attention spans of the network programmers. They are constantly reshuffling shows or dumping them altogether before they have a chance to find an audience.

Thirty years ago, Cheers didn't rack up the ratings immediately. The NBC suits back then were willing to give the show time to prove it was worth its time slot, and sure enough, momentum began to build and was eventually a consistent ratings winner.

Now, if a show doesn't perform to expectations on the first or second showing, it's almost immediately yanked or moved around and people who might have been interesting in the show can't find it.

hobbyfan said...

Magicdog: I think we're in agreement that in terms of creativity and imagination, Hollywood is in very short supply. Charlie's Angels 3.0 (counting the movie series) failed not just for what you cited, but by relocationg the series from LA to Miami. What was the idea there? Were they hoping Don Johnson would be the voice of Charlie? This version was entrusted not only to Drew Barrymore, but the creative team from "Smallville".

To touch on one of your points, the "outdated" premise, I think, can be blamed on a lack of audience research.

As for "Playboy Club", I cited the reasons why it couldn't find an audience. Programmers today don't have much patience, as you alluded to, largely because all of the broadcast networks are linked to corporate entities and have a bottom line mentality inhibiting the progression of developing new ideas.