What Did the TV Networks Do Wrong?

ABC's 'Happy Endings' was one of the many TV casualties.

ABC’s ‘Happy Endings’ was one of the many TV casualties.

So long, Go On. Happy Endings, not so much. Do No Harm, do not resuscitate.

The past few weeks were rife with cancellations over at the major television networks. Between ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and The CW, 39 shows have met their maker (as of press time) so far in the month of May.

Investigating the carnage, there are some trends in which shows were axed and which ones made the cut.

All but two of NBC’s half-hour comedies were given pink slips. Critically-acclaimed, consistently solid Parks and Recreation survived, as did perpetual underdog Community. Whitney, Guys with Kids, Animal Practice, Go On, Up All Night, The New Normal, 1600 Penn, The Office, and 30 Rock weren’t so lucky (though, in all fairness, those latter two shows went into the 2012-13 season knowing that they were filming their final seasons.) None of this year’s freshman comedies connected with a large audience, though The New Normal had a small, devoted following and Up All Night’s demise is more attributed to the departure of star Christina Applegate over “creative differences” with the showrunner than ratings.

It’s worth analysing what went wrong with the major networks this year. Though NBC killed the most shows, the other networks also had significant failures. With the exception of Nashville, ABC cut all of their new dramas, also killing low-rated comedies like Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and Malibu Country. CBS’s much-anticipated Dennis Quaid drama Vegas underperformed and was shuffled to Friday nights to quietly perish. And The CW, which only green-lights a few new shows each year, experienced two embarrassing flops in Cult and Emily Owens, M.D.

A clear problem the networks had was with advertising. The CW’s Cult arrived with little-to-no prior notice and was canned after only seven episodes. Advertising for NBC’s Guys with Kids failed to convince audiences that the show was anything more than an image from The Hangover recycled into a bland comedy. And the Peacock network’s Do No Harm arrived and left television without ever showing up on my radar. The ads for that last one showed a guy in scrubs, with a poorly Photoshopped face superimposed over his cupped, raised hands.

Another mistake the networks made was assuming that they knew what people wanted to watch on TV. NBC’s Deception tried to copy ABC’s freshman hit Revenge without generating any of the same social-media heat or intrigue. A blander version of an already far-fetched guilty pleasure was not what most browsers were searching for. CBS’s Golden Boy ripped off every other cop procedural on TV without even pretending to bring something original to the table. Meanwhile, ABC struck out with ambitious pilots without giving any thought as to how sustainable their concepts were, green-lighting Last Resort and Zero Hour without noting how viewers had previously rejected ‘event’ TV shows like FlashForward, Awake, Alcatraz, The River, and (surprise!) The Event.

Viewer fatigue was one of the biggest reasons for the failure of a lot of shows this season. After years of the same, it seems that audiences are sick of hospital shows, for one. Grey’s Anatomy barely earned a pickup this year, while ABC staple Private Practice winked out of existence. FOX’s The Mob Doctor flopped simply because it couldn’t convince viewers that it could provide a worthwhile twist on the typical formula for hospital dramas. NBC’s Animal Practice hinged on the idea that viewers would flock week after week to watch a medical comedy with a Capuchin monkey scampering around in a lab coat (the network was so confident that the show would be a colossal hit that they pre-empted the London Olympics for it back in August). The CW’s Emily Owens, M.D. applied some high school angst to the medical drama formula but still didn’t draw an audience. Do No Harm, a hospital drama attempting a Jekyll/Hyde twist, also fell victim to genre fatigue, becoming the lowest-rated-in-season drama debut in modern television history. It was cancelled after only two episodes. ABC’s Body of Proof, a consistently low-performing procedural about an unconventional medical examiner, also got axed. It appears that hospital-based dramas and comedies are going the way of the TV western or game shows.

Viewers evidently also tired of another type of show: the ‘family life’ sitcom. FOX’s Ben & Kate, CBS’s Partners, ABC’s How to Live with Your Parents, Malibu Country, and Family Tools, and NBC’s The New Normal all perished during cancellation season after attempting to draw audiences with quirky characters and saccharine plotlines. Though Modern Family is still a ratings juggernaut over on ABC, viewers are evidently not interested in also finding similar shows to watch.

Whether the networks will learn from their snafus this past TV season remains to be seen. If one was to judge by the TV upfronts, which featured a familiar blend of copycats (NBC’s The Blacklist is evidently Hannibal-izing The Following and crossing its fingers, hoping for the best) and dull family sitcoms (The Family Guide, Welcome to the Family, The Millers, The Goldbergs, even a sitcom called The Michael J. Fox Show), that would be a resounding “No.” Oh well. At least there’s always HBO.

Image Courtesy: E Online.


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