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The Gone Show

Why networks give new series a quick hook.

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CBS’s Love Monkey lasted all of three episodes. Emily’s Reasons Why Not lasted only one. Which raises the question, How can it possibly make sense for a network to cancel a show so quickly? Once upon a time, networks gave struggling shows—like Seinfeld—several seasons to find their legs. But now, thanks to an ADD, bottom-line-driven mentality, merciless networks gong fledgling shows before they’ve even warmed up. At least that’s the theory—right?

Well, first of all, some recent wobblers, like NBC’s The Office, have been given time to find an audience. And there have always been shows that were one-and-done: Anyone remember Steven Bochco’s 1996 sitcom Public Morals or the 1969 sketch show Turn-On? But let’s look more closely at the example of Emily’s Reasons Why Not, which seemed especially confounding. After all, the show had a big star, Heather Graham, and a huge marketing push. Why spend all that cash only to whack it after just one airing? But there’s the rub: ABC canceled the show not despite this huge investment but because of it. After all, if a massive holiday ad campaign and a big star couldn’t persuade you to watch the first episode, why on earth would ABC bank on you coming around for the second or third? Once a show’s tainted with the toxic combo of bad ratings and terrible reviews, it’s better to yank it quick so its numbers won’t affect ad rates set during sweeps period (a philosophy that helped put the bullet into the improvingLove Monkey). Also, since networks sell ads based on audience projections, if a show falls short, the network wants to avoid “give-back mode”: granting free ad time or refunding cash to advertisers who bought spots on the failed show. As for the five completed Emily’s episodes that never made it to air, remember this: ABC’s seen them, and you haven’t. So the network didn’t make a decision based on one bad episode—but on one bad episode and five more that weren’t getting any better. In other words, networks don’t kill shows quickly because they aren’t interested in letting good shows grow. It’s because they know a bad show when they see one, and assume that you do too.


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