The Ballad of Steve the Night Waiter
The Ballad of Steve the Night Waiter
This is an old blog, but it fit with our latest episode of Face Rockin’ so we decided to post it again. So enjoy!
If you’re a fan of shows like Fringe or Community, there is probably one major question you ask yourself frequently: will my show be back next year? It’s around this time every year that fans of niche TV shows wait anxiously to hear news from the major networks about the status of their beloved programs. They watch their favorite shows every week, trying desperately to wish a Nielsen Ratings Box into existence so that they can boost the ratings of their show. And then they go online the next day to see how the ratings were and find—to their great disappointment—that the number of viewers is continuing its steady decline into the realm of cancellation. Personally, I think this system is backwards and broken.
I think it’s time for a change.
Think about: TV Networks are selling a product. Their product is their TV show and the consumer is their viewer. (Now before you correct me by saying that Networks are actually selling air time, and advertisers are the true customers, hold on a second because I’m going to address that in a second.)
See, around this time every year, the viewers of the niche shows with failing ratings are stressed out and worried that their favorite show is going to be cancelled. They take to the internet to sign petitions and post on blog sites about why their show needs to be kept alive. That right there is passion. But if that passion is being ignored and discounted because your show’s ratings aren’t high enough, and you’re leaving your customers angry and dissatisfied, then I have something to tell you:
YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
Now, I know TV Networks don’t run a charity. They have to sell air time to advertisers, and good ratings means good pricing on their end. But you can’t just dial the viewer out of the equation. Viewers can transform a TV show into a pop culture phenomenon. The viewers are the ones who are spending time trying to decode the mysteries of your sci-fi thrillers, and they’re the ones analyzing the complexities of the character relationships in your sitcoms. It’s the viewers not the advertisers. The advertisers could care less if a show fails, but some viewers will literally riot for their show. Look at how Chuck was saved by fans with petitions leading to that Subway advertising deal. The viewers literally influenced both the Network and the advertiser. That should tell you something.
So how can this be fixed? If the ratings are low, and the Network is losing money how do you still keep a show to keep the fans happy? Well first off, you can’t please everybody. Don’t mistake this blog as me saying that the viewers should always be obeyed no matter what, because that just isn’t true. The viewers can be wrong a lot. But still, there has to be a different system that works better than what we have now. Especially now with the rise of DVR and online TV like Hulu we see that making decisions based solely on Nielsen ratings is seriously flawed. As long as good shows are being cancelled, there will be a problem. There needs to be a new system.
Now, I’m not a TV executive and I don’t know all the intricacies of the business, but as an invested bystander here are some ideas I have that could possibly be building blocks for a better style of TV Network:
1. Across-The-Board Advertising: This idea is a little shaky, so I’ll get it out of the way first. OK, so it seems that advertisers pretty much are only interested in the on-air ratings, so how about present an option that makes them more invested in the viewership of a show overall.
So basically if a deodorant company advertises during the half-hour block of a TV’s show original air time, they could also be presented with an option to advertise online with the same show. That way, they’re more invested with the viewership of the show overall, than just the original air time.
2. Let Fans Save Their Shows: Be upfront with the viewers. If a show is about to be cancelled, don’t wait until it’s too late to tell them; let them know in advance. Then present them with an option to save the show by sending in money. If a show has begun a new season and is struggling and probably won’t be renewed, begin a campaign in September where a prompt shows up on the screen letting viewers know how they can save the show. You’d probably have to send them a trinket in return, but whatever.
Basically it’s now on the fans. They can’t really complain about the cancellation of a show if they’re being presented with the opportunity to save it. That being said, this idea probably has the most potential to be used in an abusive way. Also, I’m not entirely sure if it’s even legal, so there’s that.
3. Year-long Shows: OK, this is my favorite one because it’s risky and different, but might actually work. So, let’s say that that Wonder Woman pilot from last year was actually good and NBC picked it up. BUT instead of ordering 22 episodes and immediately airing the show, they told the producers to shoot the entire series. Now, if you are a TV executive and you just spit coffee all over your screen…well first off thanks for reading, I’m honored, and secondly please wipe down your screen so I can finish my thought.
If you somehow could successfully finance the creation of an entire series before it even started making you money, imagine how it would impact your competition. Other shows take breaks during holidays, and randomly sometimes during the spring whenever they need time to get ahead of the viewers with their production. Not to mention the HUGE break every single show on major networks takes during the summer. A show that was completely shot and edited wouldn’t have to take any breaks. Imagine how well Community could do if it didn’t have to worry about competition from Big Bang Theory in the summer. It’s not like people stop watching TV in the summer; they just stop watching their favorite show because it isn’t airing new episodes until the fall. But a show without breaks could dominate the ratings because it could steal all of the viewers from the other shows that are on hiatus over the summer. Who knows, maybe you made those new fans you stole fall so in love with your show over the summer, that they don’t even go back to their old shows once fall comes around.
Like I said, this idea is risky and probably expensive which is why it’d probably be best to test it with only one show. Do it with a show that you’re confident in and even take the time to create big promotional campaigns for it that cater to this new revolutionary format.
So yeah, those are my ideas. They might be bad from a business standpoint, but at least I’m trying.
And you should be, too, TV Networks. You should be, too.
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