Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Major Networks Cut Costs
The major TV networks have announced their plans for the 2009-2010 season. It looks like many of the final decisions were not based on ratings, but on a strange mathematical formula. For instance, the popular drama "Without a Trace" was canceled by CBS after seven seasons primarily because it is too expensive to produce. "Chuck," because of a massive Internet campaign by its loyal supporters, was renewed by NBC for a third season, but at a price. The budget was cut so heavily that besides asking everyone associated with the show to take a pay cut, the show is reportedly firing at least two writers and scaling back on the number of episodes various supporting cast members appear on. It is also being reported that a major cast member will be eliminated. Then there's ABC. The channel that canceled quality shows like "Life on Mars" and "Pushing Daisies" because of low ratings has given the ax to "Samantha Who?" It wasn't about the ratings. The show was the top new comedy on TV its first season, following "Dancing With the Stars." "Samantha Who?" won the People's Choice Award for "favorite new TV comedy" and co-star Jean Smart won an Emmy for "supporting actress in a comedy series". Star Christina Applegate was nominated for an Emmy for "lead actress in a comedy series". She was also nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe, a Teen Choice Award and others, including the Television Critics Award. The reason "Samantha Who?" was canceled was not because of ratings, however, but because of the high production costs associated with using a talented cast, shooting in L.A. (as opposed Vancouver, for instance), the cost of a quality writing staff, and paying a highly skilled and expensive crew. The show was originally a hit, but then was buried in the schedule by network executives who, despite getting gigantic raises of their own, thought the show was too expensive, compared to the new shows it has lined up for next season. In fact, the producers of "Samantha Who?" were asked about the possibility of trimming $500,000 a week from the budget. One idea was to use a multiple-camera format in front of a live audience instead of shooting on film. But in the end, it came down to money. Even with all the cost-cutting measures, it still wasn't worth it for the fat cats in the suits. "America's Funniest Home Videos" is being picked up for its 20th season, and "The Bachelor" continues to roll along. "Dancing With the Stars" is a big hit, so look for another 15 or 20 seasons. But while TV executives take salaries in the millions, then sit back and wait for a raise of another million or two, they set their fall line-up based on the bottom line. It's good to see "Chuck" given another chance, but it's too soon to know if there will be any major difference in the quality of the show after the hundreds of thousands of dollars in cutbacks per episode. If the show succeeds, look for this to be the standard operating procedure for the major networks. Scripted shows will be given the green light only if they are operating on a tightened budget, meaning fire most of the writing staff, cut back on series regulars, and ask the crew to take a pay cut. Even then, it's cheaper to produce a reality show, so look for more of shows like "Survivor" and "America's Got Talent". Or maybe watch "Scrubs," which was originally on NBC, then was picked up by ABC for one last season. Or so we thought. "Scrubs" has been picked up, but with a new and cheaper cast plus other cost saving measures. I never liked "Scrubs" anyway, so I'll be sticking to my cable shows. Most scripted cable shows, it should be noted, start out with a relatively low budget, but at least they are given a chance to find their audience. AMC, for instance, has stuck with critically acclaimed shows like "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," despite ratings that would be considered low on the major networks. But because of the continued manic behavior by the major network executives, viewers are switching to these quality cable shows, and it's being reflected in the ratings. The networks are losing their audience at the expense of cable. Well, actually because of their own stupidity.