Big Five Networks: The Status of Network Programming

I’ve been casually watching many articles over the past few days about the viewership of shows and the potential of cancelling shows.  It all started with the rumors that Once Upon a Time might either see it’s last year this year or be changed with a new theme next year.  Now, I’m hearing the same thing on other shows that either have shown potential or are getting older.  So it started my brain thinking and here’s what I see as reasons for this is happening.

  1.  Money — a standard contract for a television show with actors is 5 or 6 years.  Usually this doesn’t matter as the show doesn’t last.  Yet, at the end of that 5/6 year cycle you have to negotiate a new contract with the actor.  If the actor is major to the action, they may hold out for a big pay increase (Friends era comes to mind).  So the executives can either pay or threaten that character with the elimination of their character.  If the show revolves around the character, then the show could face cancellations (think Castle).
  2. New honcho — new thoughts —  in the past when a new head of a company comes into play, they make changes.  They want to shape the network to their view of what the public wants.  Sometimes this works but that hasn’t really been the case since the writer’s strike.  Here’s why.  During the writer’s strike, people found out that cable/satellite has more programming options.  While the Big Four/Five were using reality shows, the cable stations were offering more original programming.  People suddenly realized that they didn’t have to rely on the traditional stations for programming.
  3. Lost in the past — not moving to the times — While there have been some instances of new shows standing out, most of the time programming seems to be looking to the past.  I found this trend applicable in the 1990s when I did soap opera research.  The shows that were moving forward and addressing present topics on soap operas were actually better than the ones that relied on affairs and kept things in the 50s.  I’ve been this bouncy ball happen in programming since then.  We need to accept that things are not geared the way they were.  People want excitement and adventure.  While murder/crime shows are good and seem to prevail on television,  I like a good mystery now or then.
  4. Ratings — Ratings aren’t what they used to be for the big 4/5 networks.  Sorry about that folks.  There are other options for viewing on cable.  And guess what!  More and more networks are going with original programming and using buzz over ratings to decide if a show will succeed or fail.  Do you think that shows like The Librarians or The Royals last.  Would they be the same show under a network/big 4/5 theme.  The answer is no.

If I was a bigwig television producer, I’d rethink my whole approach to television.  Don’t lie and say “The ratings are bad” but why the show really isn’t being renewed.  Don’t look at the salary increase and use the threat of cancellation to get someone to sign a contract.  And don’t rely strictly on what you like to judge what people like.  We have enough of that going on in other places.

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