Sunday, May 03, 2015

TV: ABC in shambles, pretend not to notice

Last week, ABC took the axe to the long running series Revenge.  It may end up being the biggest mistake they've made in years -- and they've made quite a few mistakes in the recent past.


It was a mistake to cancel the show  in that the series will end with 89 episodes when its thought that a minimum of 100 are needed for a strong syndication deal.

So what?  Let the studio that makes the show suffer with that.

Yeah, but ABC Studios is one of the producers of Revenge.

So it shot itself in the foot financially in terms of syndication.

It's a bad move in terms of the audience as well.

In the spring of 2014, The CW was coming off their best season.  And they could have trashed this and that show in the hopes of replacing with bigger hits.  That is what NBC has done after all.

And that 'method' has allowed the once broadcasting giant to struggle not only for relevance but also for ratings.

By standing by shows that were building or keeping an audience, The CW's ratings didn't plunge and they have been able to build on that in the current season.

Viewers loyalty is important.

But loyalty is a two-way street and if the network isn't loyal to the viewers, the one-sided relationship results in major ratings erosion.

More and more people are reacting to NBC announcements of new shows -- and to new shows on the network -- with shrugs and disinterest because NBC can't stick with anything other than Law and Order.  It's earned that reputation and made a significant portion of viewers skittish.

The expected cancellation of State of Affairs, a strong show with a loyal base of viewers, will no doubt further harm the network.

ABC has its own problems.

And thanks to NBC's repeated failures, little attention has focused on those.

We have documented repeatedly how Shonda Rhimes has used this season to destroy Scandal. She's run off viewers.  We've been telling ABC friends (including one exec we have a bet with) that this was going to happen since the first new episode after the winter finale.

And, thing is, we've been right.

No more does the show get ten million viewers an episode.

It doesn't even get nine million an episode.

Or eight.

It's settled in at 7 million.

This has all happened because Shonda destroyed Olivia.

People do not want to see Kerry Washington's character cowering.

They certainly didn't want to see -- during Black History Month, no less -- the most popular African-American character on TV sold off in an auction.

Possibly, we should all be glad the return episode aired January 29th and not January 27th because, to 'celebrate' International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Shonda might have decided to put David Rosen in a gas chamber.

When we asked about the lack of sensitivity to Black History Month by airing those multiple auction off Olivia to the highest bidder in the world episodes, ABC's White execs insisted they assumed Shonda, African-American, knew better than they about how audiences would respond.

If Shonda has a self-destruct wish (which we think she does), then she definitely knew how audiences would react.

And while we've tracked that throughout February, March and April, last week, we also noted that ShondaLand is getting much, much fewer visitors ("TV: If They Could Turn Back Time").

The amusement park no longer amuses.

Grey's Anatomy perked up a little via the episode where she killed off Patrick Dempsey's character -- a death which shocked fans.

This resulted not only in a petition to bring Dempsey's character back which has already gotten 70,000 signatures, it's also resulted in public complaints that Shonda is a one-trick pony who only knows how to shock with death.  The deaths never have any real meaning beyond an episode or two.  Harrison, shot dead on Scandal, isn't even noted today nor Supreme Court Judge Verna whom Fitz killed by smothering her with a pillow.

Though last Thursday's back-to-back episodes of Grey's Anatomy were advertised as 'dealing' with the after effects of the death, viewers were disinclined to suffer through Shonda's claptrap and approximately a million viewers bailed on both episodes.

Prior to killing off Patrick, the show was suffering severe ratings erosion.   If you look at 2007, for example, the show's ratings were now almost two-thirds less than what they had been.

Shonda's been telling ABC suits that she knows what she's doing (she doesn't) and that this opens up new romantic possibilities for Meredith played by Ellen Pompeo.

ABC, however, notes that 12 seasons later, Pompeo's facial work has left her face lopsided, that her hair looks increasingly like a wig and that Meredith just isn't popular with viewers the way she once was.

"The only thing that would cheer us up," one exec told us mid-week, "is if Shonda buried her feud and brought [Katherine] Heigl back.  The response from viewers is consistent that they want Izzie back."

But Shonda doesn't care what viewers want.

Which is why the fact that all three of her Thursday night shows (that includes How To Get Away With Murder), hits in November, began to tank in 2015 doesn't bother her one bit.

Just like, dare we say it, how she's not bothered that her use of under eye cover up has made her a laughing stock with people wondering if she's got some Michael Jackson skin color fetish when she shows up these days with two inch white circles under her eyes.

Unless you're performing in a drag show, Shonda, with make up, less is always more.

The Water Cooler Set has missed the mess that is ShondaLand because they've been too busy trying to pimp American Crime -- ABC's biggest failure this season.

The heavily promoted show -- that Water Cooler 'critics' couldn't stop yammering about -- opened with a decent number of 8 million-plus viewers.  And then viewers went running to the point that the show now posts 3 million viewers an episode.

It's a bomb.

And maybe if (White) 'critics' had paid attention, they'd grasp why that is.

This supposed look at race has resulted in one critic after another insisting Felicity Huffman (a White actress) is a lock for the Emmy.

Excuse us?

American Crime was supposed to explore race but all it did was offer another opportunity for a limited White actress -- already known for chewing scenery and being a pain in the ass to co-workers -- to be a lock for an Emmy?

The show is not a look at race.

It's a look at an African-American criminal's crimes that destroy a White family.

How novel, how avant-garde (that is sarcasm).

ABC's not just failing there.

Forever was supposed to be a break out show and it even resorted to kink in an attempt to pull in viewers.  It has a loyal core audience but they haven't been enough to make it a hit.  It's not the bomb that American Crime is, but it's also not a hit.

Castle is a hit but it's been a hit every season and it's the network's least appreciated show (by the network). Even with lower numbers in the last few months, it still outperforms ShondaLand.

But Castle is really the only bright spot when it comes to scripted, hour long shows.

Juliette Lewis and Ryan Phillippe are delivering strong performances on Secrets & Lies and pulling in enough viewers to be ABC's only new hit from the spring season but how do you do season two?

The finale will reveal who murdered five-year-old Tom.

What do you do after that with a show in which Lewis' character is investigating the death of Tom and spent much of the initial episodes convinced Phillippe was the killer?

Is season two about Phillipe being framed for another murder?

Is season two about Lewis going off to a new town to solve a new murder?

Either could happen but both are a different show and may not get the same ratings.

Getting the same ratings is Nashville.

Were this CBS, that would be a problem.

Last season Nashville's renewal was iffy because of the ratings.  Having delivered the same ratings this season might indicate the show needs to go but in a season where Shonda Rhimes crashed and burned with three high profile shows, Nashville maintaining its ratings is actually a good thing.

Yes, an increase would have been wonderful, but ABC should be grateful the show held on to its viewers.  If they're thinking about tinkering with it all, they should consider moving it to Sunday nights or to Thursdays.

Marvel Agents of SHIELD (and Agent Peggy Carter) aren't hits (except in key demographics) but they're not bombs either (and Agent Peggy Carter managed to hold on to SHIELD's ratings so we've already argued the show should return next season).

More importantly, they're blockers.

The CW is going all in with DC.  Next January will see another hour devoted to DC Comics characters on The CW making three shows over all.

Right now, Marvel Agents of SHIELD blocks/holds down viewership for The Flash.  In fact, The Flash has only beat Marvel Agents of SHIELD once in the ratings so far this season.

That is not a minor thing when deciding what to renew or what to cancel.

Revenge, for example, was a huge hit show.

And ABC screwed with that.

They pulled it from Wednesday nights and moved it to Sundays.

They did so knowing it would lose viewers.

How come?

Soap operas never play well on Sunday nights.

(Desperate Housewives thought it was a comedy with soap opera elements.)

Dallas and Falcon's Crest were hits on Friday nights.  Knots Landing was a hit on Thursday nights (same is true of Shonda's soap operas that she refuses to admit are soap operas).  Melrose Place was a hit on Wednesday nights and on Monday nights. Dynasty was a hit on Wednesday nights.

Sunday night doesn't allow for soap opera hits.

Maybe it's due to church going or the nature of the day for many.

But ABC knew this and they moved Revenge to Sunday nights.


To block the expansion/domination of CBS.

And that has worked.

Without Sunday football giving CBS an extra bump in prime time, The Good Wife is posting its worst ratings ever.  Battlecreek has failed to get a foothold (great ratings for ABC, but lousy for CBS and it airs on CBS).

Only Madam Secretary, airing opposite Once Upon A Time, has been a real hit (post-football lead-in, the Tea Leoni show continued to pull in the same numbers).

So Revenge did what it was supposed to.

And now they want to cancel it?

When Secrets and Lies is a question mark in terms of what-do-you-do-for-a-second-season and when Once has suffered huge viewer erosion (due to the audience tuning in for Madam Secretary instead)?

Season four of Revenge was not without its problems.

The show suffered from a cheesy bible (soap operas have an over storyline plotted out ahead of time and this is known as the bible) which was also executed poorly.

One example there: Gina Torres.

She's an excellent actress and her joining the show was a smart move.

Victoria's father-in-law (once played by William Devane) has died and this means she will get all the money (her son Daniel is dead, her husband Conrad is dead and her daughter Charlotte is not a blood relation to Devane's character).  She's so happy.

Enter Natalie (Torres) putting a crimp in her style and befriending Victoria's 'friends' who are tired of her blackmail.

The crimp gets worse as it's revealed in a subsequent episode that Victoria is not getting the millions.  The father-in-law left them to his wife . . . Natalie.

Victoria is enraged and sets out to destroy Natalie.  Lyman Ellis (Sebastian Pigott) discovers that not only was Natalie's the dead man's nurse at the end but that she has a history of fleecing her patients.

Meanwhile, to avenge Conrad -- yeah, turns out Natalie was one of his mistresses -- she's going after David Clarke (James Tupper) and trying to make it appear he's assaulted her.

And Victoria then exposes Natalie.

Now that's a good storyline.

The problem was it was a three-episode storyline.

They brought on Torress for three episodes.

That's an insult to the audience.

There was no shaping the story, there was no preparing for twists and turns (or reacting to them), there was just a rushed plotline that would have been downright laughable were it not for the strong acting from Torres, Stowe, Pigott and Tupper.

Time and again, the show refused to nurse and develop the storyline in season four.

They also did some lousy casting.

Brian Hallisay can't act and he doesn't have a following.

In fact, he drives viewers away.

This was known before he joined Revenge in season four.

Lifetime had a hit, season one, in The Client List.

And he played the bad and abusive husband on that show.

But, along the way, Jennifer Love Hewitt fell in love with him offscreen (they remain a couple) and demanded the storyline be changed and that her character fall back in love with his character Kyle.

And when that happened, the audience fled the show leading to record low ratings in season two and Lifetime's decision -- after Love refused to write off Kyle -- to cancel the show.

He destroyed the ratings for a hit show before he joined Revenge.

He can't act.

As Rebecca frequently noted, he needed to stop talking and just take off his shirt because he can't act and eye candy has only one purpose.

Instead, they gave him storylines -- multiple storylines.

However, by mid-season, each episode seemed to contain the same tired scene of his character (Ben) telling Emily/Amanda (series star Emily VanCamp) that he didn't know if he could trust her.

A talented actor couldn't make that repeated scene come to life.

It was torture to watch a non-actor try.

Torture was watching Jack become a police officer at the start of season four and leaving mid-season.

It never made sense.  He was arrested at the end of season three and when season four starts, he's a cop?

And why would he ever be a police officer?

His brother is dead.  His father is dead.  His wife is dead.

He is a single parent raising a toddler (Carl) and suddenly he decides he wants to be a police officer?

His dream had once been to sail off to Haiti and be an aid worker.

Now he's going to enter a dangerous field that he's never had a desire for?

It was no surprise it didn't work out.

But why did the writers put the audiences through that?

Or through what appeared to be yet another attempt to make Nolan (Gabriel Mann) straight via his marriage to Louise?

As Rebecca's pointed out, Elena Staine's Louise came off like a character from The WB's Savannah.

Although distracting from the main storyline, at least Staine could act and camped it up in a way that made all of her scenes watchable.

Canadian Karine Vanasse was unconvincing as a business woman, unconvincing as a pregnant woman, unconvincing as a rival to Emily and unconvincing as French.

Her performance as Margaux ranks as some of the worst network acting ever -- you'd probably have to go back to CBS' The Secret Storm to find anything as bad as what Vanasse served up.

Despite this, audiences did not flee.

Revenge's ratings did drop but they remained similar to Marvel Agents of SHIELD -- which, again, ABC needs to block ratings gains for The CW's show The Flash.

Stemming CBS was the point of moving Revenge to Sundays.

And ABC thinks they can do that with what will most likely now be a whole new Sunday night?

One led off by the ratings troubled Once Upon A Time?

Cancelling Revenge is a huge mistake.

It will anger viewers.

Again to The CW, Nikita no longer fit with their plans for the network but was still delivering viewers.  Instead of just cancelling it, they brought it back for an announced final season in the fall of 2013 and that's the sort of thing that builds trust with viewers.

Revenge will be 11 episodes shy of 100.

Had the network announced Revenge would return for a final fifth season of eleven episodes, some of the outrage over the cancellation wouldn't exist.

By refusing to be loyal to the viewers, ABC now finds itself in a position where it needs to remake an entire night of programming on Sunday while, at the same time, the ratings for Thursday nights are in the toilet and the only scripted hour long show they have that's a hit is also one that probably doesn't have a second season it it.  This fall, NBC may finally be able to dig its way out of the ratings cellar . . . thanks to ABC.

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