So, it turns out I may be slightly addicted to television...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A long time ago CW, we used to be friends. On my denial of the cancellation of Veronica Mars

Sigh. Well, what a sucky year this has been for television. And I don't even care that "sucky" isn't a real word.

My favourite gal detective - the spunky, well-written, best show on television (apart from The Office) has been cancelled. And with that news, I decided that tv had hit an all-time low. Or maybe the executives have hit an all time low? Particularly Les Moonves of CBS, since rumour has it that CBS pulled the plug, not the CW (CBS is the parent company in case anybody is wondering)

And so I reflect on the year that was, where I, once a self-described television junkie, almost stopped watching all tv. Gasp! By the time May sweeps rolled around, I was only watching The Office and Veronica Mars. I haven't even bothered to watch all of the season finale of Gilmore Girls - a show I followed religiously for over half a decade. You see, most of my favourite shows are being taken away, only to be replaced by that crap they call "reality tv". Crap that, for some reason, the masses prefer to watch. I admit, there is some good reality out there - The Amazing Race rising to the top of the bunch, but let's face it - how many dancing/singing/cooking/inventing/love matching shows can there be? If I watch one more talent show I'll throw up. How many American Idols have there been already? How many are still around?

My rant of reality tv aside, I think this season was interesting. Interesting in that the networks still don't seem to actually "get" how their audience is changing. You see, people just don't come home and watch their favourite shows anymore. They have, well, lives to lead. So they record, or Tivo, or download, or podcast. And none of that is counted. I remember reading something about how The Office, NBC's critically-acclaimed-yet-consistently-underperforming-comedy jumps over 20% in the ratings when DVRs and Tivos are accounted for. And that doesn't even cover the number of people downloading the show on the internet. In fact, from January onward I didn't even turn on my television. I watched The Office and Veronica Mars online.

But the networks, well, they still look at live audiences and put all their stock in the Nielsen ratings. Umm...just a thought marketing geniuses - but if the demographic your targeting is young and mobile and tech savvy (like for many of the best shows on TV) perhaps you need to update the way you think about ratings. And advertising. I think television as we know it is going to change completely. And like the music industry, the television industry will wake up one day to realize it's in crisis and not have the foggiest clue how it got there or how it will get out.

Consider the season that was. The new season was a bloodbath. Barely any new show survived. Many were yanked by their third episode. How does anybody know if a show is going to work by the third episode? The answer: you don't. Especially when you don't even really have a grasp of who is watching and how they're watching. It was like a "spray and pray" season - spray a whole bunch of new shows out there and pray somebody watches the first couple of episodes. But viewers are getting a little wiser. They are not interested in getting hooked on a serial drama only to have it yanked and receive no closure. Viewers aren't stupid. But the networks have yet to realize that.

But now back to my agony over the cancellation of Veronica Mars. Here was a smart, witty, strong female lead. The ensemble cast was phenomenal and the writing second to none. And now there's an angry fan base out there. Prior to writing this post I was Facebooking (aren't we all these days?) and I found 316 groups dedicated, in one way or another, to Veronica Mars. Everything from saving the show to best quotes to man crushes on Keith Mars. As I write this thousands of pounds of Mars bars are being shipped to the CW headquarters in an effort to gain a stay of execution for the show (heartened by the revival of Jericho I'm sure). The CW places last in almost every ranking anyway, what would it kill them to keep a good show with a loyal fan base? For heaven's sake, they renewed One Tree Hill. Of course Veronica didn't have wide based appeal - she was on a cable network nobody watches.

I mean, is it only me that sees the writing on the wall here? To you network execs, the answer is simple: Give shows appropriate time slots, be consistent with the time slot, don't yank the show mid season and wait until everybody has moved before you bring it back, and measure viewers accurately by paying attention to how people actually watch the show.

If the powers-that-be actually managed to pull their heads out of the sand long enough to do that I think they'd be in for some surprises.


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