Network Execs and TV-ADD

Posted on October 10, 2006

Network executives have a bad case of TV-Attention Deficit Disorder. They are now deciding whether to cancel or renew a television series based on as little as two episodes, which is just absurd.
The box office mentality that's plagued the feature world for years has spread to the small screen. Like their film counterparts, webheads have recently grown increasingly impatient, frequently condemning shows to death -- or declaring them "hits" -- after seeing just a few weeks of Nielsen data.

CBS, for example, pulled the John Wells-produced Ray Liotta vehicle "Smith" last week after just three airings (Daily Variety, Oct. 5). On the other end of the spectrum, NBC opted to announce a full-season order for comicbook caper "Heroes" on Thursday after just two episodes had aired. "Everybody seems anxious to declare something a hit or miss after one or two weeks," a network exec said. "But we all know we need to be patient with certain shows and temper our expectations."

Still, webheads know it's harder for shows to find themselves over time these days -- hence their itchy trigger fingers. Viewers have so many options that nets need to see some sign that they're coming to a show, or might still be convinced to sample a show, in order to resist pulling the plug. "Give me a reason to be patient," one longtime ratings warrior said last week. That attitude's particularly prevalent this year, as serialized shows dominate the fall pack. Series that practically demand auds show up week after week to keep up with storylines can foster viewer loyalty. But if people don't show up in the first place -- or if they uniformly reject that first episode -- it's unlikely they're going to show up later, given how difficult it is to catch up on a serialized skein.

"The theory is, if you don't get viewers pretty early, they're not going to come in down the road," said one net exec. "If you don't have critical mass to start from, you're never going to get to where you need to be." The tight race for adults 18-49 has also stepped up the competish, as one or two underperforming shows can make the difference between worst and first. Helping feed the frenzied atmosphere behind such hair-trigger decision-making: intense scrutiny of the ratings race by both the media and the blogosphere
Oh, sure. Blame it on the blogosphere. It's not our fault that network execs are so scared of their own shadows that they won't take a chance on a show building an audience over time, as did Seinfeld.

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