The show must go on
Or must it? The other day it was announced that the NBC show Hannibal had been cancelled just as it’s started a third season. Not a show I watch but I know people who do and hold it in extremely high regard. There’s been a massive outcry on social media about this and having been on the end of the same news for shows I’ve watched it got me thinking about the reasons and whether shows are given a fair chance to find an audience, especially if the broadcaster doesn’t market it very well.
I guess ultimately the makers of shows need an audience and I presume need to make money or at least attract advertising to be shown during the show but at the same time not many shows are instant hits and take time to find their voice and their audience.
I’m very much of the opinion that writers take time to find the characters and how they best interact, the actors take time to do the same, stories beyond the initial premise may take time to develop and it may take time to find an audience but how much chance is it reasonable to give?
I said in a previous article that it takes me around three or four episodes on average to get an idea of whether a show is something I’m interested enough to stick with. I’m not looking for perfection but enough to keep me interested and now I wonder what it is the studios look for to keep a show going.
What’s the difference between a show like Hannibal, Forever, Constantine or Helix, all of which have been cancelled recently and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate or to a lesser degree Person of Interest and Once Upon A Time all of which have had lengthy runs of five seasons or more.
When it comes to those first ones (apart from Hannibal which I haven’t seen) it seems fairly obvious to me; an initially interesting premise that isn’t developed well. Characters you don’t really care about, poor writing, inconsistent or non-existent story arcs, just standalone episodes. Many of you may disagree and love those shows but I wasn’t in the least surprised when some of them were cancelled after just one season.
However from what I’ve been told about Hannibal, the above doesn’t apply, so is it the subject matter in that case? Is the U.S. TV market not willing to accept it?
Could it be the fact that a lot of these shows are only broadcast on cable or satellite channels which immediately limits their available audience? Are there simply too many channels so audiences are spread too thinly? Some may argue that the popularity of so-called “Reality TV” has dumbed down audiences so they’d rather watch people make idiots of themselves than invest in a series with extended story arcs and character development.
Then there’s the way programmes are watched. Some will watch “live”, some will record, some will watch on catch-up services, stream or even download. Not all of these will count towards viewing figures so is the way those figures are made up at fault for not taking into account the way people watch?
This seems to be a concern I’ve heard from both other fans and actors themselves when asked about shows they’ve been in. Probably the most obvious show to use in this article would be Firefly, a Joss Whedon project which only lasted one short season but which has just grown in popularity since it was cancelled. There was enough interested that Joss was allowed to make the movie Serenity to conclude many elements of the story arc. This is unusual.
The reason I bring all this up and why its of particular concern to me is because of a show called Defiance that I love and which has just started its third season to a dip in ratings, at least in the U.S. though as its broadcast is delayed in each country it’s hard to get an overall view.
This is made by and broadcast on the Syfy channel. It was originally sold as a multi-platform show and designed to tie-in with a computer game although as the show was often broadcast months apart in different countries, this didn’t exactly always work too well.
However, what the show does have in its favour is excellent writing, excellent characters, acting and brilliantly imaginative use of music thanks to the awesome Bear McCreary. It also has a very vocal and active fanbase and amazing interaction with all those involved in making it. This is characterised by live tweeting of broadcasts, often along with the actors or writers and the fans even coordinating live tweeting of rewatches of seasons.
But is this enough? I’ve not known a show with such vocal and interactive fans but if the numbers don’t improve could it be at risk? This would be a huge pity as season three has got off to an amazing start, though admittedly that’s from watching the US broadcast as the UK starts two weeks later, in fact today 25th June and I will be watching it again to make it count.
And the fans have had to be vocal as Syfy have done very little in the way of promotion and marketing. There’s practically zero merchandise to buy (hellbug plush anyone?) and it really does seem to be the fans, writers, production staff and actors that are doing the most to push it. This isn’t really fair and I think Syfy really could be doing more as it could be a quality flagship show for them rather than the cheesy knock-off “monster” movies they churn out.
But as the Syfy channel is only available in the UK on Sky or Virgin Media platforms, what kind of audience (that counts towards ratings) can it expect to have? We will just have to wait and see I guess but it’s not huge and this immediately flags danger. Sky has approximately 10.7 million TV subscribers and Virgin less than half that (couldn’t find current numbers).
There’s certainly no faulting the fans for getting behind it and promoting it. Tweeting, making fan art, podcasting, writing blogs and generally being a pain to all their followers across social media. People in the UK have been tweeting the U.S. broadcasts and I’m sure some American fans will join in the with the UK ones as well. Its great to be part of this ‘family’ but many shows have a good fanbase and still fall by the wayside.
Here’s hoping that the fans can rally enough interest to keep this particular show going and that Syfy have enough faith in it to keep it going and promote it better. If I knew how ratings work and what goes on in the minds of the studio execs when making the decision to cancel or invest further maybe I’d have a better understanding of what to expect. Without that I’m just trying to do my bit to spread the word among my meager followers and hope we get to see a season four. Its all we can do.