marla pachter looks at shows that need saving …
I tend to get a little invested in the shows I watch. By “invested” i mean obsessed, and by “obsessed” I mean my life would be nothing without my TV shows. So sometimes when things get cancelled, or are nearing the chopping block, it can get a bit personal for me.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because of the whole Happy Endings “Save Our Show” campaign. After a two month hiatus, ABC moved the sitcom to Friday nights, advertising the new night with a slogan to save the show. How can you save the show, one might ask? Well, that’s an interesting question. As this interesting Huffington Post article notes, it’s an odd campaign to run, especially considering the network is the only thing that has the power to decide whether Happy Endings stays on the air or not. The best thing I can deduce is that ABC genuinely wants Happy Endings to stick around, and thought the ads might generate enough press to ramp up its audience. Because all ABC really is asking us to do in order to save Happy Endings is to tune in.
But then again, why move it to Friday evenings (notoriously the worst night for TV), and why air two episodes per week (essentially burning out what they have left of the show)? I have to wonder if the TV execs really understand it themselves.
So I started looking into why these SOS campaigns happen, and how they work. And then, something terrible happened. The CW officially cancelled a little cult show, not so coincidentally called Cult.
I. Was. Devastated.
This was a mid-season replacement show that virtually nobody has heard of. What caused Cult to get obliterated? I say obliterated, because cancelled is an understatement. They pulled it from the schedule completely. Every day since the last episode I was looking forward to Friday evening so I could watch the next episode of this complicated mystery of a show. Where episode 8 was supposed to air, a repeat of The Carrie Diaries finale would air instead. The level of freak out I had due to my lack of preparation for never seeing a new episode of Cult led me to have to go outside and take a walk, just to calm down.
I honestly would have never even heard of the show Cult if they hadn’t started advertising during The Vampire Diaries that they were moving it to a new night, Fridays. I don’t know what night it originally aired on, and I don’t know why it was so poorly advertised. But I do believe that on top of poor advertising, Cult just simply wasn’t given a chance. It was moved to Friday nights almost immediately, which was dooming it from the start. But that’s not quite what I mean. I could be wrong, but I have two feelings about this.
One is that it’s possible that the kind of people who would devour a show like Cult are also the kind of people who avoid the CW like the plague (I mean seriously – why is it that everyone on that channel is a hot alien? It’s a little freaky!). I could understand that, because I myself am one of those people. I started watching Vampire Diaries recently when a friend whose opinion I trust with my life (You guys know how seriously I take my television. This was a serious statement.) recommended it to me. I also watched The Carrie Diaries this season because I was interested to see this Sex and the City prequel, expecting it to suck nads. What I found is that the prequel is actually a lot smarter and more real than Sex and the City ever was, and I became strangely enamored with the young Carrie Bradshaw series. But let’s face it, even with those two I only watch things on the CW with the word “diaries” in the title, so in true Marla logic, those must be the only things they’re good at and everything else should be avoided at all costs.
The other possibility, is that a show like Cult, which already had a strange and growing internet culture perpetuated by content in the TV show itself, would have benefited from finishing out its season. The more episodes that aired, the more time the show had to gain an audience, and for that audience to spread the word of how addictive the show is. It’s the kind of show that really sucks people in, and I believe a lot of people would have caught on, marathoned it this summer when nothing else is on, and the ratings would have gone up considerably for season two. Again, this is obviously just speculation, and we’ll never truly know what would have happened if Cult were allowed to finish out its season (aside from me keeping my sanity), but this tweet from the show’s creator from the day of cancellation is a depressing indication that the show may have gotten some positive attention:
#Cult Sadly true. CW Execs once called the last 5 episodes “outstanding”. I guess too outstanding. You are great, SMART fans. Thx to u all!
— Rockne S. O’Bannon (@Rockne_S) April 10, 2013
Which bring me back to my point – Why did Cult get cancelled? Why is Happy Endings in serious jeopardy? Why did Veronica Mars get cancelled seven years ago, when just last month its overwhelming fan base more than successfully funded the creation of a Veronica Mars movie (Final total: $5.7 million. Initial Kickstarter goal: $2 million)? The easy answer is money – that’s what the world revolves around, right? And networks make money by getting advertisers, and advertisers want their ads to be seen by more people. And thus, it comes back to the ratings system and our good friend Nielsen.
What I gather from what I’ve read (particularly this article, which simplifies it as much as possible ), is that the Nielsen Media Research uses a sampling system. 5,000 households get a box to log when they are watching television, and that’s where most of the ratings research comes from. However, approximately 99 million households have a television, so that’s a tiny sample. And here’s the thing – I don’t have Nielsen meter, and I don’t know anyone who does. Do you? So, when it comes to “saving shows,” I and everyone I know are virtually powerless. Depressing, right?
And what about all the TV I watch on Hulu? This article on the Nielsen website discussed how Nielsen is expanding into more and more cross-platform research, including online viewings of TV and DVR viewings, but it is unclear if this is just for research purposes or could actually affect the ratings. I gather that this is just the beginning of research, they want to see if it really makes a difference in the numbers, and some time in the far off future they will use that data to determine the ratings. And it’s definitely exciting that that’s a possibility. But for now, the ratings system is just utterly frustrating.
So for now, let’s look forward to most likely seeing Happy Endings on USA next year, start up a Cult fans therapy group, and gear up for the magnanimous creation that is the Veronica Mars movie that will show up in theaters some time in 2014. That’s all we can do, really.