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The Business of TV

May 4, 2012

BENT -- "Tile Date" Episode 106 -- Pictured: (l-r) David Walton as Pete, Amanda Peet as Alex -- Photo by: Michael Desmond/NBC

While we like to think that television shows are renewed/cancelled on the merit of their content (a comedy should be funny/a drama, well, dramatic) and their ratings, the fact is, there are many reasons that are not visible to the viewing audience that determine it’s fate.

The recent NBC sitcom “Bent” is a prime example.

I thought the show was fantastic.  Great characters/actors (it had Jeffery Tambor in it – some of you will stop reading this article right here – I love him), an interesting premise (an incompetent contracting crew perpetually working on a kitchen remodel, led by their snarky sexed-up boss who of course, falls for the home owner – see pic above) – and it was whip smart funny.  It also received fairly good reviews from the critics.

But NBC aired the six episodes over three weeks, up against American Idol and Modern Family.  It had very little advertising.  Basically, they were burning it off.

Why?

THIS ARTICLE goes into a few reasons, but one really stood out to me.  Money.  Of course, it’s almost always about money, but in this instance, how it would cost them money to air it any other way.

There was a May 31 expiration date for the option on the series – I’m assuming this is a standard expiration date for Pilot Season (if someone can confirm this, please let me know).  If NBC had decided to air the eps over the summer, they would have had to extend the option and pay the cast and producers to hold them, which could result in an additional seven figure expenditure.  On a struggling network, that is a big expense – and is probably best used to upgrade the computer program that writes jokes for Whitney (oh, snap!).

The upside for NBC – if by some miracle, it found an audience, despite all those obstacles, they’d have a hit and could justify the expense.  If it bombed, which it did, then they ‘justified’ their rationale for the way they aired it.  In the TV Executive world, that’s a win-win…

It’s a shame, but that is the world of television today.  If it’s not an instant hit or the show doesn’t have a producer or actor with a deal for a minimum number of eps and/or clout, the networks aren’t giving them time to develop.

I can only imagine what the world would have missed if both Seinfeld and Cheers had been canceled for their low ratings when they first aired (if I recall correctly, Cheers was dead last it’s first season…)

Now, about that upgrade for Whitney…

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