Although the broadcast networks took a small step forward toward change during their recent upfront hootenanny in New York (a few of them promising to run shows straight through, or in split blocks, to avoid yanking them around the schedule, frustrating viewers), there are still lots of problems to fix.
For starters, when you announce your schedule for next season in May and it doesn’t include shows that haven’t even aired yet, what message are you sending viewers?
Here’s a hint: Don’t watch, because this thing is dead.
Or maybe: “You might want to back up. We’re going to burn this thing off and it could get hot.”
Two shows fit that bill this week: Goodwin Games tonight on Fox, then Save Me (boy, that’s an unfortunate title) with Anne Heche on Thursday. Also tonight, ABC will air the Canadian series Motive (which ran a full 13 episodes in Canada but has no such guarantee here).
There may have been a time when viewers weren’t savvy enough to figure out that these shows were DOA or, in the case of the Canadian series that often premiere on these shores in summer, merely gap-fillers.
And while it’s not a bad practice for American networks to buy some cheaper Canadian fare to keep the lights on in the summer, seriously transitioning to a 52-week schedule would be a better idea. In fact, for an industry that should be able to communicate better than most, television has never been able to use its own airwaves to pound home the message that they will be programming year-round, so please don’t leap over to cable at the end of May.
Without real commitment, there is no trust. So no matter what the networks spout out one side of their collective mouth about staying competitive 52 weeks a year, their own audience isn’t buying.
Granted, it may take some time to reverse old habits, even if networks try to refurbish, if not reinvent, the old business model. But at this point, they’re barely trying.
Which brings us back to Goodwin Games and Save Me, neither of which I’m going to review. Why not? Oh, that’s easy: Why bother?
These shows are dead. They are not coming back. Because of that, they ultimately have no value other than taking little chunks of your life and tossing them in the garbage.
One of the elements that comprise how people watch television in the modern era that so few people in the industry actually get: People have time constraints. There are an overwhelming number of choices on network and cable television, plus Netflix, etc. So saving time becomes key. In fact, what’s partly useful about criticism is that one of the functions it provides is saving time by weeding out the undesirable shows, the time-suckers.
It’s up to the reader to determine who to trust in that regard. Do a lot of critics hate the show? How many reviews are positive? Do I even have time to sample this for myself, because what if those critics are wrong?
Ah, but if you offer up two already-dead shows, you’re just making my job that much easier. No, dear readers, you shouldn’t watch Goodwin Games or Save Me. Oh, and you’re welcome.
And you should probably only watch Motive if you’re bored out of your mind and haven’t cleared out your DVR. You never know what a network will do in the summer.
And that’s the problem right there, isn’t it? We don’t know what networks will do. They paid a lot of money to make these episodes only to kill them before they aired. If they show such little respect for sunk costs, what guarantees do you have that, even if you have all the free time in the world to watch these DOA series, the networks will air all the episodes?
None. No guarantees.
Until the networks come up with a better summer strategy — or even just a summer strategy — viewers will have no loyalty and certainly not much interest in wasting their own time. Summer is in the air — let the suicide scheduling begin!