NBC’s “Do No Harm,” which starred Steven Pasquale, was canceled after only two airings. (NBC)
You could call this the winter of their discontent — but they (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) probably would use other words, none printable here. Bluntly speaking, this has been an awful winter for the broadcast networks.
Don't bother looking for ABC's much-promoted Anthony Edwards newcomer "Zero Hour" — it's gone. "Red Widow" limped through its premiere; CBS' "Golden Boy" arrived quietly; NBC's "Do No Harm" was whacked after two outings; even Fox's "The Following" — which just earned a full season pickup — slid after a strong start.
What's going on? Industry experts — including senior executives at the networks who requested anonymity — gave these reasons for why none of this winter's new shows have caught on with viewers.
The "new new" paradigm: Fancy talk for how people are watching TV differently, particularly young people (who largely watch streaming content) and boomers (huge DVR users). An example of the new new paradigm — "Zero TV homes," Nielsen's term for homes with no TV. There are 5 million of them now, up from 1.27 million only two years ago. These "homes" — usually occupied by young singles — are getting their TV via computer or tablets. They are the trendsetters, and if they aren't watching new network shows when they launch, then the new shows are instantly in trouble.
"Broadcast is old (in terms of viewers), cable is young, online is younger," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of Horizon Media, a New York advertising firm. "That pretty much sums up where this is heading."
It's the show, stupid. Or put another way, most people don't want to watch boring, derivative TV anymore. HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC — now Netflix, "House of Cards") — have spoiled viewers.
"You always start with the shows," says one veteran. "Even here, we can find a million excuses, but at the end of the day if you make something people want to see, they will come, and I think this has been a year where there has not been a lot of compelling new shows on broadcast TV."
Ferocious competition from dozens of viewing sources has eviscerated the networks' ability to generate enough "promotional impressions" — industry lingo for tune-in reminders. Simply put, most people don't even know when a new show is on.
No one knows anything in Hollywood. Shows arrive that you think you've seen before — and guess what? You have! Networks recycle ideas all the time, often in the same time periods.
"There's a lack of historical perspective" says an exec. "We're the ones in the meetings who look at the executive and say, 'We've seen this show 15 times. And you know how many times it's failed? Fifteen times.'"
Trigger-happy networks have no patience. Here's a truism that is probably true — networks have no patience if a show starts off poorly while cable lets a low-rated show ride for months.
There are lots of reasons for this, but viewers may end up thinking why bother to invest any time with a series like "Zero Hour" if the life expectancy can be measured in weeks?
All of the above.
Pilots set to take off
Pilot season is now in high gear for the TV networks — the time of year programmers decide which shows will make their fall schedules. Most pilots will never air, but some may stand a better chance because they feature big-name actors:
Minnie Driver, "About a Boy," NBC: TV version of the Hugh Grant movie (and Nick Hornby novel).
Anna Faris, "Mom," CBS: A newly sober single mom tries to get her life together in Napa Valley.
Michael J. Fox, Untitled, NBC comedy: A husband and father of three with Parkinson's disease goes back to work as a news anchor.
Rupert Grint, "Super Clyde," CBS: A meek fast food worker decides to become a superhero.
Greg Kinnear, "Rake," Fox: An adaptation of an Australian series about a brilliant but self-destructive criminal defense lawyer.
John Leguizamo, "Untitled John Leguizamo Project," ABC: Comedy based loosely on the star's life.
Eddie Murphy, "Beverly Hills Cop," CBS: He will reprise his movie role as Axel Foley, but the series will focus mostly on his son.
Christina Ricci, "Girlfriend in a Coma," NBC: A woman wakes up from a coma to find out she has a 17-year-old daughter.
Emma Roberts, "Delirium," Fox: She plays a young woman who falls in love — in a futuristic world where love is illegal.
Blair Underwood, "Ironside," NBC: Update of the old Raymond Burr wheelchair-bound detective series.
Robin Williams, "Crazy Ones," CBS: A father-daughter workplace comedy set in the world of advertising. (Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the daughter.)
Rebel Wilson, "Super Fun Night," ABC: Comedy about three nerdy female friends, who vow to have "super fun" every Friday night.