Know Your Venues

Better known as “Step Up Your Game.”

Do you know why “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” the series managed to last 7 seasons before it ended, instead of having its plug pulled after the 3rd season?

Or how “Smallville,” which was slated to end after Season 5, ended up lasting 10 full seasons?

Or why David Eick’s Bionic Woman (2007) lasted only 8 episodes before NBC pulled the plug after it dropped to 4th place?

It’s called Understanding and Knowing The Venue.

Understanding the Classes at Work:

In the same vein as Professional Baseball in the United States, TV has different kinds of classes for expectations of audience and cost.  At the highest level of “commercial” TV, the Big 4 (NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox) are considered the Major Leagues:  The four channels fight for the largest audiences AND the largest 18-35/40/49 demographic.  These networks skew their programming more towards White, Male, traditional Middle- to Upper-class.  This is so the networks can get ad agencies to charge more for their commercials, because marketers believe that this demographic spends the most money.

Therefore, any show that starts here must bring their A-game at all times, lest the show be cancelled forthright.    At the Majors, there is no such thing as “Time to Get Things Right”; your show had better connect within the first 3 episodes and garner very good to excellent ratings for the night or your concept will be heading for the showers.  In rare instances does a show that’s been given the axe ever return (except at Fox under exceptional circumstances), and even in those cases do those shows rarely survive.

The next step below could be considered like Triple-A baseball, comprised of the CW and a number of cable off-shoots, like USA, TBS, MTV, and VH1.  The CW, being an amalgamation of the WB and UPN, continues skewing towards the (White) Teen demographic, with shows made in the likeness of Dawson’s Creek (like the aforementioned Smallville and Gossip Girl).  The other problem the CW faces with their targeting of this demographic is the appearance of being “trendy,” which tends to push shows with people of color down far too many notches.

The next (and last) relevant step is Double-A.  Channels like Sfy-Fy, BET, Discovery, and the like inhabit this location.  If your show is here, you are looking straight into television’s equivalent of Wolf 359; a ratings graveyard.  Independent Pay-TV stations like HBO and Showtime offer TV-style programming that will blast any show on the Double-A scale away in both quality and ratings.  But some of the higher-rated shows down here, regardless of monetary losses vs. advertising revenue, will remain as long as the parent company can find places to absorb the losses (reference Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica).

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One Response to Know Your Venues

  1. I can bring a slightly different perspective to this from the UK. Both ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Blackadder’, both classic British comedies, had poor first season ratings and critical reaction when they started in the 1980s. They would not have survived today, even on a network such as the BBC that doesn’t have commercials.

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