In an age where streaming and cable seem to be competing to outdo each other with ready-made shows, network television seems to be moving in the opposite direction somehow. We only need to take a look at the most recent fate of a number of series that have aired, as the final TV season draws to a close. NBC ended the musical drama Zoeys Extraordinary Reading List (despite our passionate advocacy to be renewed), as well as the latest science fiction offer from the networkDebris, leaving the most established Lost-inspired Manifesto on the bubble. Foxs procedural serial killer Prodigal son also bit the dust, while the Thesilenceofthelambs suite, CBS Clarice, stay on the bubble (and maybe go to streaming), and the demonic WrongThe long-awaited second season moves to Paramount +. These are all shows that add significant flair to the more traditional drama or procedure, and they just can’t seem to gain traction. What is happening here?
It’s not like there is a plethora of compelling, risky shows that have been revived lately, and this band just didn’t make that cut. Indeed, the fall 2021 schedule is inflated by the procedural franchise tariff (the exception to this seems to be the CW, which has made its trademark by airing weird shows). NBC may be the worst culprit with two full nights of Dick wolf show it Chicago shows (With, Fire, and PD.) will take over on Wednesday evenings, while the various Law and orders dominate Thursdays. NBC even moved all of their comedies mid-season to make room for that. ABC’s fall program at least still has a bunch of returning drama that is being loved by fans.
Of course, there isn’t a single reason why each of these shows suffered its fate. Clarice can offer us the most clarity, as the big marketing push was sometimes misguided and the jerky planning didn’t help. One faux pas here was a Super Bowl commercial that didn’t even include any footage from the actual show, and instead contained a lot of images of lambs (I’m not kidding), not giving viewers a good idea of what the show is. With the series no longer airing for several weeks between episodes, it never built up enough steam to have a strong fan base. Viewers just don’t seem to know this show exists.
Prodigal son may have had a similar problem, where despite a stellar distribution (Catherine zeta jones!!!) and a big hook as a premise, Fox never seemed to know how to market it. Television has seen a number of eccentric police consultants go by over the years (Psychic, Monk, etc.), but the one with a serial killer as a father is definitely new. And yet, despite a consistently good buzz, ratings for the series plummeted in season 2.
Zoeys also saw a small drop in ratings in its second season, and yet, with its big, booming musical numbers, it could easily be seen thriving on a cable channel. The people who make this show, as well as its stars, have made it clear it’s not done yet, and are actively looking for a new home. One thing the series has going for it is a dedicated fan base who already had the #SaveZoeysPlaylist hashtag trending # 1 on Wednesday night, the night news of the cancellation broke.
Zoeys The situation raises an interesting question: Do networks simply no longer know what to do with shows that aren’t procedural series, sitcoms, or reality TV? Would have Zoeys Was it a huge success if it had been broadcast from the start through a streaming service or cable network? We have seen it before, after all. Lifetimes You (admittedly not a network show) flew under the radar until it landed on Netflix and support for the disturbing stalker drama exploded. In this case, it seemed like people really didn’t know about the show until Netflix got it, despite a big Lifetime marketing push ahead of its premiere.
So if that’s the case, are people just not paying attention to what’s on the air week after week, and only what they can binge on? Many streamers have returned to weekly episode drops recently to prove otherwise, just look at the recent sensation that has been WandaVision. Cable seems to be fine too * cough * Easttown mare. So maybe people are forgetting at this point that the networks are broadcasting more than just your procedural and essential cop reality TV like the Single franchise.
In this case, the solution may be to look more into the riskier creative shows they are afraid of. They may not have a choice. As people begin to automatically turn to streaming and cable for their meandering dramas, sci-fi / fantasy epics, and horror slowdowns, network TV can do what everyone already thinks it does. she will die. (Time travel DCs Legends of Tomorrow made a crack on a recent episode about how in the future network television will hook up to a single show. Network TV is still alive? said a disbelieving Nate.) Ambitious shows can’t be a rarity on network television; they must be so common that people can’t help but pay attention to everything that is going on there. It doesn’t help when the only quirky show that seems to be doing well, Wrong, is also switching to streaming (although in this case it may have been moved to try and convince viewers to subscribe to Paramount +).
Its true procedural franchises like NCIS, FBI, Chicago, and Law and order (with three shows each) are enjoyable and reliable. But if the networks continue on this cautious trajectory, they won’t be able to complain by looking around and realizing that all of their viewers are gone, because it will be their fault.