A world with way more than 57 channels

January 5, 2016


Lawrance Bernabo
Zenith News

Who would sign off on an ad campaign that invents the phrase “show hole” to describe the apparently inescapable depression that follows binge watching a television show?  

The term is not funny. Maybe it was meant to sound dirty, but it does not. More importantly, it is not smart, which pretty much just leaves stupid. Every time I see the ad for Amazon Prime I cringe.

2015 turned out to be a record year, with 409 scripted series on television, up from 376 in 2014 and within spitting distance of double the 211 such series in 2013. That is impressive, especially when you take into account that it does not include news, sports, reality, made-for-TV movies, specials, daytime, or children’s programming. That 409 breaks down into 44 from online services, 147 from broadcast networks, 37 from pay cable, and 181 from basic cable.

For the third year in a row, the scripted series has grown across each distribution platform—broadcast, basic and pay cable networks, and streaming.

Clearly, “television” does not mean today what it meant to your grandparents. CBS, HBO, and Netflix are all now on equal footing, even though their primary methods of transmission—broadcast, cable/satellite, and Internet—are different.

We now live in a world where broadcast is the least significant form of transmission. I cannot even remember the last time I saw an actual television broadcast, but I assume it was sometime in the last century.

In doing a post-mortem of the Fall 2015 television season, the biggest surprise was that a grand total of one new network show was cancelled by the end of November. Wicked City (ABC) was cancelled after three episodes, although production had already been halted after eight.

The Bastard Executioner (FX) has the unique distinction of pulling the plug on itself, with creator Kurt Sutter beating the network to the punch because he was not interested in writing a show that nobody was watching.

Otherwise, shows that would have been cancelled by this point in seasons past have found themselves trimmed. Minority Report (FOX) and Blood & Oil (ABC) were cut from 13 to 10 episodes, and The Player (NBC) is down to nine. Just in time for the holidays, all three were cancelled, along with Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris (NBC) and Public Morals (TNT).

The biggest winner this fall has to be Ash vs. Evil Dead (Starz), which got renewed for a second season before it even debuted. Hard to top that, right?

Network executives used to study the Nielsen numbers each morning with the fervor of Talmudic scholars. But in a world with DVRs and On Demand, there is now a tendency to avoid rushing to judgment.

Beyond that, the numbers are really, really bad. Take Blood & Oil, for example, a show that crammed as much into the pilot episode as any I have ever seen. The first season could have gotten the lead characters to where they were by the end of that first hour. The pilot earned a 1.4 rating, which translates to 6.36 million viewers.

Add 2.63 DVR viewers and you get a grand total of 8.99 million viewers. By December, those numbers were down to 0.8 rating and less than five million viewers. How close is the difference between cancellation and renewal? Quantico’s successful pilot earned a 1.9 rating, which is half a rating point.

But if you pull the plug on a new show, you have to put something on in its place, and there is no reason to believe the Nielsen numbers for your replacement series are going to be any better.

I saw a list of shows considered likely for cancellation, which includes several that I watch. The Good Wife (CBS) has been one of the top three shows on traditional network television since it debuted. If that was not depressing enough, Wayward Pines (FOX) has been renewed for a second season. Talk about a “show hole.”

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