Why Good Television Shows Are Canceled

Have you noticed that over the past few years the TV networks, primarily ABC, CBS, and NBC are likely to cancel shows that, while very good programs, aren't overnight hits? This phenomenon has been more prevalent over the past three years, and it's made me wonder why the programming Powers-That-Be are so quick to pull the plug on programs that may need more than a few weeks to gain a following. According to Josef Adalian, this can be attributed to a simple cause: an old-fashioned and flawed understanding of viewer habits.

Call it the Tim Kring theory.

Mr. Kring, creator of NBC’s “Heroes,” recently told a writers expo that serialized dramas such as his are “a very flawed way of telling stories on network television right now, because of the advent of the DVR and online streaming.”

“The engine that drove [serialized TV] was you had to be in front of the TV [when it aired],” he said. “Now you can watch it when you want, where you want, how you want to watch it, and almost all of those ways are superior to watching it on-air. So [watching it] on-air is related to the saps and the dips***s who can’t figure out how to watch it in a superior way.”

Mr. Kring hit upon a larger problem facing networks that aspire to airing complicated series. These days it seems the cooler, more intricate the show, the less likely it is that Nielsen will be able to accurately—and quickly—measure its audience.

Sure, Nielsen generates numbers showing how many viewers watch a show via DVR—as long as they watch within seven days. But those of us who decide to watch a dozen episodes of “Chuck” in a Hanukkah-week Hulu marathon? Or who figure “Dirty Sexy Money” is a dish best enjoyed via a summertime DVD box-set splurge? We don’t count.

And that's the problem.

There are far more viewers the networks ignore when it comes to quantifying the popularity of any given show. I know my family is one of those as there are a number of TV series we record on our DVR and watch when it is convenient for us to do so. We don't necessarily have the time to watch them when they air because we're busy with other activities or they air at the same time another show we like is on. There are plenty of other viewers that will watch their favorite shows online for the same reason - convenience. The old model of watching a program when the network(s) decide to air them is flawed and does not reflect reality of modern viewing habits. It skews the results of any rating system such as Nielsen because the old model hasn't kept up with the times.

Unless the networks can update their decision making process, choosing not to ignore non-traditional viewer profiles, they are doomed to fade away to be replaced by those embracing the changes and providing the kind of programming the TV audiences want.

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