By Leah Hochbaum
At the start of the 2006-2007 U.S. TV season, the popularity of serialized shows like Lost, 24 and Grey’s Anatomy led to glut of copycats — series that required viewers to make huge time commitments, dedicating themselves to watching every minute of every episode of the season, possibly for years to come. Broadcasters were hopeful, but what they forgot was that viewers were already committed to Lost, 24, and Grey’s Anatomy and didn’t have a whole lot of time left for new shows. One by one the new series were cancelled. Kidnapped, Vanished, Smith, Runaway and The Nine all got the ax before long. So for midseason, the nets realized that when it came to dramas, less, in most cases, was probably more.
“There is an overpopulation of series and serialized shows, and the audience can only devote their time to watching an average of two series a week,” said Fernando Barbosa, senior vice president, Buena Vista International Television Latin America. “People have other things to do. And nowadays, new media pipelines [such as the Internet] are a clear option as well. Therefore only two or three content winners will emerge. Those winners can benefit exponentially, while the rest lose exponentially.”
BVITV launched just one midseason drama — the Groudhog Day-like Day Break — in Lost’s coveted time slot when the island mystery series went on hiatus. The show, which starred Taye Diggs, looked promising at first, but nonetheless, was quickly cancelled. While most would be quick to blame the surplus of serialized series, Barbosa wasn’t sure. “I tend to agree,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s always like that. If the trend is not serialized shows, it’s another category of content.”
CBS also went the less-is-more route, debuting just one midseason drama, medical show 3 Lbs., which is internationally distributed by CBS Paramount International Television. But while the eye network has yet to officially pull the plug on the series, it put the show on hiatus after just a handful of airings. It seem that viewers just don’t have any more time on their hands to get involved with another show.
Keith LeGoy, executive vice president, Distribution for Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI), which only debuted comedies in the midseason, opined that in addition to audiences’ lack of time “the interesting factor has been the strength of many of the returning shows, and frankly the overall unbelievably high level of quality for new TV series. Shows like Kidnapped, Smith or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip are outstanding creative television, but so are returning shows like Grey’s Anatomy and ER. So the competition is intense and the quality level you need to win has been cranked way up.”
LeGoy continued: “The beauty of our business is its unpredictability. No one really knows why X or Y shows didn’t catch fire with the audience. So much of this business is the stars aligning for a great show which catches the zeitgeist, connects with its marketing campaign and is on at a time, and with a lead-in, that prompts people to try it and come back the next week.”
Meanwhile, The CW, the newest U.S. network, which blended programming from The WB and UPN, also opted to play it safe, launching just one new drama — Hidden Palms from Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson and distributed by Lionsgate. And despite the failure of Runaway, the net’s only new series this past fall, Dawn Ostroff, president, Entertainment, The CW, has high hopes for the new show and the net. “With so many great shows on these days, viewers do have a lot on their plates. But the fact is, if you love a show, you’re going to tune in each week — whether it’s serialized or not. I don’t think the fact that a show is serialized prevents people from checking it out. If a great show grabs viewers’ attention, they’ll make the effort to keep coming back.”