What The Hell Was That Network Executive Thinking? (Or Why Some Shows Get Picked Up And Others Don’t)

We’ve now had a few weeks to think over the recent announcements from ABC,CBS,FOX,NBC, and The CW about their Fall Schedules.  One thing that I appear to get asked a bit in emails and in comments is “Why?” in relation to some show being picked up and another show (usually more deserving in their eyes) not being picked up.  So I thought I’d wrestle with that subject for an editorial.

First you have to consider the thinking behind every choice.  History has shown us that certain things work and will continue to work for likely ever.  I hate to break it to THE MENTALIST fans out there but Patrick Jane isn’t doing a whole lot different than what Joe Friday used to provide audiences over 50 years ago.  In the course of TV history we’ve learned a few things:  Crime Procedurals, Legal Dramas, & Medical Dramas are watched and watched a lot.  Formulaic comedies sell well too.  It’s generally smart thinking for a Network to have at least one strong Crime, Legal and Medical drama a piece.

So in that regard CBS has been riding high with a lot of extremely successful Crime shows but has lacked a serious Medical based show for years.  So it was considered smart to gamble on two different medical shows with the hope of one or both becoming a hit.  NBC was losing ER and they too put their eggs in more than one basket.  ABC and FOX have their medical dramas so they were able to go after some more niche based titles.

NBC, FOX, and CBS seem to be using rather strategic planning for next season.  The shows they chose made sense for their strategy and their current “brand.”  NBC’s decisions may look crazy, but I think that is their brand.  FOX and CBS however were extremely careful with their show selections.  Sure VIRTUALITY isn’t getting picked up and it makes more sense for Fridays than their comedy block but besides that one little blip things almost make sense behind their decisions.  PARENTHOOD on NBC is a head scratcher.  It didn’t work in the 90s, and it’s been a long time since the movie.  Will audiences care?

ABC is using what I call “The Mud On The Wall Strategy.”  They’re throwing as much as they can at a wall and hoping one sticks.  This may actually work, but some of these projects are just downright crazy.  V was an 80s hit when it was about Fascism in today’s society.  It became a quick flop when it left that line of thinking (when the creator was kicked from the project) and I really see this not going down the correct path.  Still it could work.   However EASTWICK to me is another head scratcher.  What were they thinking?  The movie was ages ago and they don’t have one Michelle Pfieffer type on the cast let alone an actor worthy of filling Jack Nicholson’s shoes as the Devil.  The Devil is the key to this show, and the best Devil lately on film or TV has been Ray Wise on REAPER.  Another TV show based on a movie from eons ago and questionable casting.  Sounds like a real winner!

When you look at those shows you can also see a list of shows that weren’t picked up.  You may have read a leaked script or even seen a leaked pilot or at least scenes from that pilot.  These make you go “WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING!?!”  The shows not picked up seem better in just about every way you say to yourself and you’re confused.  CBS for instance had an amazing show called HOUSE RULES.  It was easily one of their top 2 pilots.  Extremely well written and well cast.  It looked really good.  They even started staffing for the show.  It wasn’t picked up.

Why?  Well you have to understand that a show must be marketable.  Good product comes along often and the morons at the networks don’t know what they have or how to deal with it.  FIREFLY was pitched to viewers as “From the Creator of Buffy,” which really wasn’t the route to take.  They didn’t understand it.  NBC had no idea how to market SEINFELD.  It was a show about nothing, and they didn’t know how to pitch that to the consumer.  Right now a show about a group of freshmen representatives in Congress is in their mind “hard to pitch,” because they believe right now that their audience is A.  Too old.  and B.  Doesn’t want politics in their viewing because right now the political world sucks.  So remember it’s easier to pick up the show you know how to promote and the people have shown historically they like to watch that style.  The tough sells that work and become hits are a true wonder of the world.

The CW however is a different type of company.  They don’t rely on historical evidence to help them program.  They use a Ouija Board.  The problem is they’ve been thinking they’re talking to Edgar J. Sherick when in fact the person giving them advice is the late great  Rodney Dangerfield.  Rodney has been secretly getting the network to crash and burn because Dawn turned down his advice (when alive) of spotlighting hot young comedic talent on the Network that would “make a statement, and shock audiences” (much like FOX used in its early years).


18 responses to “What The Hell Was That Network Executive Thinking? (Or Why Some Shows Get Picked Up And Others Don’t)

  1. I’m still bugged that Body Politic didn’t get picked up, but I do hope the sudden love and calling out Dawn, especially from people at E!, where they all seem to sip the 90210 and GG witchbrew, is getting back to her and pissing her off. I know it’s probably too late for the show, but anything that spotlight’s DO’s poor decision making skills brings me joy.

  2. Annie, BODY POLITIC was easily the best pilot at The CW, and it’s annoying that it wasn’t picked up (and won’t be). They don’t do anything that makes sense. They don’t want to lose their top show, so they pay the star a truckload of money. I mean a truckload. So what do they do? They move the show to Friday.

    They’re geniuses! Nothing they do makes sense and trying to explain their thought process is just insulting to their target demographic. Basically they think women 18-34 don’t like or want to watch anything political.

    They’re morons. I’m sticking with the statement they use a Ouija Board because that at least would explain everything over there.

  3. I just hope there’s a way that more people can see the full presentation, somehow. Different outlets are reporting that the producers are still shopping it to different networks in hopes of finding a home, but since that seems highly unlikely, maybe once that’s done the pilot will leak? I hope so.

    Is it at all possible that it could come back for next pilot season? I know it probably wouldn’t have the same cast, but since the show was originally pitched in 2005 then redeveloped for the CW this year, could that happen again next year? Maybe redevelop it for one of the major networks (I loved the script but you could tell they were trying to cater to the CW with some of it, like that triangle)?

  4. Annie, it’s an intriguing idea and obviously one that was shared by the producers of HOUSE RULES. Two very similar shows both pitched to the same company (CBS and CW) practically and both declined for rather silly reasons. Both were almost picked up too. It was close.

    So that means to me that it could be sold elsewhere later. BODY POLITIC is a little “too CW,” right now but slightly altered I’d think FOX would bite.

  5. Politics are always a sucky situation in the past, now and probably in the future. A TV show about it is actually an excape from that. 24 is sort of like that. West Wing was too from what I hear(never seen full episode of the show).

  6. What primarily gets people to watch a new show? Advertising on the network? A big name starring? Timeslot – people not switching the channel after Idol, etc?

    I guess the luxury of letting a show grow an audience (Seinfeld) based on word-of-mouth, etc isn’t available these days. The network’s marketing has to bring in the audience in the first few weeks or the show is done… unless the network is NBC.

  7. Nick, you should seriously consider leaking The Body Politic and any other decent pilots you have on your desk. By very, very, very unofficial means of course. Maybe it’d get some buzz and make it to a midseason slot.

  8. From this post it seems like most of the people at the networks should be removed in favor of people who aren’t idiots. If these people are PAYED to market television shows, then shouldn’t they be able to do that?

  9. It’s NOT that simple, dsm9412.

    One thing that I’ve run into repeatedly (enough that I may write up a different perspective than Nick and shoot it to him) is the simple truth that past marketing is no longer an effective guideline for modern entertainment audiences. It -should- be obvious: entertainment options are vastly more complicated than even a decade ago. But entertainment companies are very, very slow to change, and that makes it hard for ‘new blood’ to get their ideas heard, much less utilized.

  10. Nick,

    You’re saying Virtuality isn’t getting picked up, but one of the FX guys says it is, as they’ve been asked to to do more VFX tweaking on the pilot which has been brought forward from it’s original airdate.

    Not that I’m bothered, I never bought the snake oil from Ron Moore anyway.

  11. In regards to Fox, I thought you yourself mentioned that they were trying to develop more women-focused shows for this year? By that measure, I’m not sure a Medium-rehash (and that’s about it) really qualifies as a scheduling success.

    I’m also not sold on their Fall Dance concept. Fixed duration shows, when Fox knows they have Idol & 24 taking up timeslots in the Spring, make perfect sense.

    But this specific fixed duration solution? Not a chance.

    First off, the audience will have just seen a summer season of the show. Second, what happens to a live performance/elimination show when, say, all but one hour of the show is preempted by baseball for multiple weeks in a row?

    Either a fixed length 13-episode scripted show or a pre-filmed reality show should fill in those Fox fall slots. Dance? Not so much.

    (Disclaimer: I have nothing against the Fox network (even if I did, they get a free pass for their FX network programming). But Fox has a lock on 9 months out of the calendar year – if they could just wise up on the last three, they’d be a force to be reckoned with (and force the rest of the nets to raise their game to match).

  12. @Peter: Live projects don’t air on Fourth of July.

    If anything, that situation simply suggests Fox thinks they could get cost-positive DVD sales if they had better FX.

  13. Thanks Tom.



  14. Some guy named John

    I think the Dangerfiled advice would work on any network. B

  15. Some guy named John

    I think the Dangerfiled advice would work on any network. Being a yong twenty something I find little on TV that depicts the age group. Somehow even the people playing 20 year olds acts like they are much older, and somhow have marvelous jobs and houses.

  16. when you say tom welling got paid a lot of money, do you know how much? i was wondering if it was closer to chad michael murray numbers or hugh laurie numbers.

  17. “I hate to break it to THE MENTALIST fans out there but Patrick Jane isn’t doing a whole lot different than what Joe Friday used to provide audiences over 50 years ago.”

    But Patrick is a hot blond guy! It’s completely different 😉

  18. Sean, Tom Welling is getting at least six figures.
    I remember Alisa Milan and the other woman from Charmed were getting aroud 110,000 an episode for the last couple of seasons. Considering how bad The CW is compared to The WB 4 or 5 years ago, my guess is Welling is getting close to 150,000.