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From Mediasharx.com

What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

By Scott Nance

Tuesday 13 April 2004, by Webmaster

Right now, the thing I want most in the world is I’d like to find a TV network exec, take him or her around the corner, and —

I know what you’re thinking, but rest assured, no violence would ensue. I just want to ask them a simple question and get in return get an honest, straightforward answer: “What do you want from us?”

In other words, what do the network suits want from us fans to keep sci-fi shows on the air.

The most recent source of my frustration, of course, is Fox’s recent decision to cancel WONDERFALLS after just four episodes. The frustration is magnified because WONDERFALLS was a sci-fi show only in the most passing way.

If this is the fate of a series that is only sort of sci-fi (the talking cow creamers and such which were really just a gimmick) then we are in real trouble.

I realize I only recently sounded an optimistic note. I predicted the eventual death of reality TV based on the apparent beginning of its demise Down Under, reasoning that what’s happening there will eventually, god help us, catch up to us here. That demise, I said, will ultimately help revive sci-fi on television.

I still actually believe that will happen—eventually. But the premature death of WONDERFALLS and ANGEL-and the uncertainty of the future of ENTERPRISE-tells me that in the meantime, we fans are faced with a “long, dark teatime of the soul” with little, if any, sci-fi on television.

It’s a pretty sad time when the most we have to be excited about is the start of the run of DEEP SPACE NINE on Spike TV. There’s no doubt how great a series DS9 was, and is. But they’re reruns now, folks. There’s nothing new there.

But back to my questions at hand: What do they want from us? What do the suits want to keep our shows alive?

The obvious answers to my hypothetical network exec would be, certainly, that they would want us to watch the shows.

But we are. Ratings for ANGEL, for instance, have been higher this year compared to last.

Last year, ratings for Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY on Fox were actually higher than those for his BUFFY over on UPN. FIREFLY still only lasted a dozen episodes before the network effectively spaced it.

To get ratings, though, the show has to be on at a time when people will watch it. Fox actually seemed like they had actually learned something and acknowledge that fact when they moved WONDERFALLS from Friday to Thursday for its forth episode.

But then they killed it after just its first Thursday appearance — a broadcast which TV Guide told potential viewers was still on Friday, by the way.

As one fan posting on TrekWeb said, four episodes just isn’t a realistic chance for a show to develop the kind of viewership that Fox apparently expected for it.

And, as a another fan on TrekWeb noted, if Fox had treated X-FILES the same way as it did WONDERFALLS—X-FILES would have been shitcanned after just four episodes, too.

These series, admittedly, attract a relatively smaller audience than, say, SURVIVOR or LAW AND ORDER. But not every series is going to be a Top 10 series. Almost by definition, a network cannot fill its entire programming schedule with Top 10 series.

There ought to be, and needs to be, room somewhere for series that attract a moderately sized, committed viewership.

And we know the fans of sci-fi series are highly committed individuals. All you have to do to know that is to ask the guy driving the “Save ANGEL” mobile-billboard truck around Hollywood, or the people who fought so hard to bring FARSCAPE back from its early grave.

So is it a matter of expense? A famous knock on sci-fi series is that they are very expensive to produce, primarily due to their reliance on special effects. But we also know that the current budget on ANGEL is about equal to what the budget was for the first season of BUFFY. Somehow, back then the WB was able to afford to carry BUFFY as a “cult” show for a full season or two until it built a broader audience.

And, talking about expense, Fox paid $20 million for 13 episodes of WONDERFALLS. It broadcast four of them, but has no plans to air the remaining ones. If expense is so important, why are they willing to just eat all that cost by not even broadcasting the unaired stories they’ve already paid for?

No, something just doesn’t make sense here, which is why all I desperately want is to get Jordan Levin, Gail Berman, or some other network suit or another alone in a room. Just me, them, and a polygraph.

8 Forum messages

  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    14 April 2004 06:34, by purplefixer

    My thoughts exactly. How are we supposed to get more of the shows we like? Are we supposed to wait fifteen years for the reruns to get popular and the network to go ’wow, we should have some more of these, lets make eight spinoffs!’ (Ala StarTrek?)

    I’d hate for Joss to have to die for his work to be appreciated, he’s not friggen Van Gogh. He’s a storyteller, with some serious stuff to pan out, and a great life history to draw on for his character inspiration.

    Eliza "would love to reprise her role as Faith, in whatever the next form it comes up in is" so let’s get our Faith spinoff rolling!

    HEY! Go bother George Lucas for some cash, he can cut off a limb from the franchise tree and you’ll never be hurt for budget again! What we need to see is a USA or HBO or Skinimax or Sci-Fi sponsored show, one that can evolve and grow and change with a rotating cast of main characters, to allow Joss to continue to film his universe for us until we get plain sick of it!

    And how likely is it that we’re going to get tired of another Willow, Spike, Xander, Faith, or Buffy?

    (or Angel, or Giles, or Fred, or Wesley, or Cordy, or Connor, or Lorne, Jenny, Harmony, Drusilla, Darla, Gru, Tara (please Tara), Kennedy, Chloe, Anya, Andrew, Warren, Jonothan, anything by Camden Toy, etc, etc, etc...)

  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    14 April 2004 10:16, by Chase Murata

    I honestly don’t know. I cannot think of any reason or rhyme to their cancelling of great shows, while they continue to peddle mediocre garbage (i.e.: Steve Harvey’s Big Time, Rock Me Baby, One Tree Hill, et cetera).

    I think their is something in the water cooler, as it doesn’t make any sense at all anymore.

    See online : Thanks for the memories Joss!

  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    14 April 2004 16:01, by Anonymous

    After Angel leaves, TV will officially, undoubtedly, suck. Originality gets the boot and regurgitated crap gets another season. I would call the spatter of reality shows excrement, but that would be an insult to toilet waste.

    Let’s face it: TV execs hate taking chances. But it is exactly those chances that make the truly exceptional stand out. I’ll be perfectly honest: When I heard about a "Buffy" TV show coming out in 1997, I thought, " A TV show off of that crappy movie? That’ll last five minutes." But someone took a chance and I actually got hooked.

    Now we’ll soon have nothing. I am debating whether or not to even catch "Smallville" next season. Sure I like it a whole bunch, but it was the one-two punch that let me watch the WB on Wednesday nights. A one-two punch isn’t a one-two punch without the two. And I have absolutely NO desire watch a twice-cancelled, forty-year old revived vampire drama.

    Mark your calendars, folks. When "Angel" goes off of the air for the final time, that’ll be the exact moment that TV will suck. After that moment I will say to the WB, in the words of Eric Cartman, "Screw you guys. I’m going home."

  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    14 April 2004 18:12, by DurangoKid
    It’s simple. The Men In Suits want to sell our eyeballs and eardrums to advertisers. Content is what draws a person to the business end of the tube. The lower the production costs, the better the return on that content. There is an ever increasing pressure in our “market economy” to maximize returns on capital at any cost. Accordingly, the stakes are high. When stock options make up a major portion of an executives compensation package, the managers are driven to keep that stock price high or be fired. To keep a steady stream of sci-fi-fantasy shows on the air the masses must line up like lemmings to watch. Whatever the lemmings line up to watch rules the day. Any other values that don’t translate into a bigger bottom line don’t matter. Markets are not about culture, art, mythos, or any of those touchy-feely distractions. What the networks want from us is to make the Men In Suits filthy rich on ad revenue.
  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    15 April 2004 20:59, by Scott Nance

    >It’s simple. The Men In Suits want to >sell our eyeballs and eardrums to >advertisers. Content is what draws a >person to the business end of the >tube. The lower the production costs, >the better the return on that content. >There is an ever increasing pressure >in our “market economy” to maximize >returns on capital at any cost.

    Yeah, no doubt, I get that, and I got that when I wrote my piece. My friends and I frequently quote the old saying, "That’s why they call it show *business*."

    The point of my piece, though, is that, for example, ratings for "Angel" are up, which translate into more of those eyeballs for those ads.

    Apparently that’s not enough anymore. After all, as I said in the column, WB once carried "Buffy" for a good season or two before it really found its footing and now won’t do the same for "Angel," even though "Angel"’s budget is roughly equal to that of Season One "Buffy."

    The difference is clearly media consolidation. In more recent years, the WB, UPN, SciFi Channel, etc., have all been subsumed by ever-larger conglomerations (AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, etc.)

    That means that these networks can no longer do just what is in their interests (ie keep decent-but-not-extraordinary ratings-getters like "Buffy," "Angel," "Firefly," etc) but have to do what is actually in their corporate captains’ interests, which as you said is basically to keep costs down and the stock price going up.

    TV will not improve until consolidation ends and a few outlets shake loose and can operate in their own independent interest again.

    By the way, if you liked this column, check it out every Monday over on MediaSharx. (Ok, shameless plug over.)


    See online : The trouble with media consolidation

  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    17 April 2004 02:11, by Anonymous

    Scott, et al,

    After I posted I got that I got that “well, duh” feeling. Sometimes one has to state the obvious to keep it obvious. I agree with everything you wrote, more or less. After working for a couple of Silicon Valley start-ups I can appreciate the panic and desperation when management wakes up to a good idea gone bad or just not quite good enough. There’s a mad scramble to bury the old idea and find the next new thing. No manager wants to throw good money after questionable. A ratings blip in a five-year-old show may not have been enough to impress the Suits. If that had occurred in the first season and every season after, Angel might still be around. I wholeheartedly agree that media consolidation is bad and media will suffer for it. Well, is suffering for it. The ever more fierce drive for profits I outlined in my first posting is causing that consolidation.

    So, what’s the answer? Perhaps media that isn’t based on the medicine show paradigm would allow more creativity. Now I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that we should replace the market economy with a means of producing and distributing goods and services that relies on democratic principles instead of markets. Why not end markets and the class divisions they foster? Why not give people a say in what affects them? Why not democracy in all sectors of society instead of democratic forms in the “political arena”? Maybe it’s time to think outside the (corporate) box. As media, or more specifically, story telling becomes more like a commodity it will behave like a commodity.


  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    17 April 2004 10:53, by Dancing Warlock
    What is it about you geeks that you can’t let go of TV shows? OK, so the WB sucks for cancelling "Angel". How is my life affected by this? And while we’re at it, let’s finally put Trek to rest.
  • > What Do Networks Want From Us ?? (angel mention)

    19 April 2004 20:05, by DurangoKid
    Hey, I’m over it already. I don’t have cable or a dish and I’m in an area with no TV signal. Is it right for the Men in Suits decide what is culture? Stories affect people’s lives by what they think about and what their values are. I think people are desperate for good story telling. There’s so little of it. As the media consolidate and gain more economic and political power, the stories will further descend into mediocrity. Worse still, the content will become increasingly self-serving. Angel and Buffy are gone. Good-bye. What’s next? More corporate drivel?