Surviving The New Fall TV Season: An Insider's Perspective
Noah Hawley is a novelist (The Good Father) and screenwriter (Lies and Alibis) who created and ran two TV shows for ABC (The Unusuals and My Generation). In this exclusive post, Hawley offers an insider’s perspective on what the fall TV premiere season is like for the people who create the shows:
Eight days. That’s how long the ride lasted. On Thursday, September 23, 2010, at 8 p.m., my second show, My Generation, premiered on ABC. It was cancelled eight days later, on Friday, October 1st. The show, which ABC had spent millions to make and millions more to promote, aired twice. This despite the fact that the network had deemed us their flagship show of the fall season, by which I mean the new show to which they gave first dollar priority in sales and marketing.
Which is why, if you were in LA or New York that summer, you couldn’t escape the billboards and subway ads. If you went to see a summer blockbuster movie that July, chances are you saw a two minute trailer the network and studio had paid to make for us. A month later, Rolling Stone Magazine threw us a party on the roof of a Sunset Boulevard hotel. The night of the premiere, Warren Littlefield and I rented a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont and threw a premiere party. Over a hundred people came to watch the show and celebrate. Heading up to the launch, the folks at ABC marketing had designed the first interactive iPad app for a television show, and people had their iPads out as they watched. ...
And then the ratings came in. I don’t remember the precise number, but it was in the high ones for the critical demographic, which is a low number (a hit these days gets anything over a 3.5.) But the brass at ABC told us not to worry. They’d expected a number like this, they said, and they were prepared to ride it out and let us build an audience. Seven days later episode two aired, to an even lower number. And the next day we were cancelled.
That’s the TV business. Most shows fail. And as we move from Premiere Week 2012 to Week Two, I’m sure there are a lot of nervous showrunners. It’s almost impossible to launch a hit show these days in our crowded TV landscape, with network audiences shrinking consistently every year. And so, as a showrunner, you try to do the math. How patient is my network? What do they have to replace me with? ...
Making things harder, there is a true bloodlust in the Hollywood press and the blogosphere this time of year. It’s like a Roman Circus. Who will be the first show to drop? Animal Hospital? Mob Doctor? In 2010 it was My Generation and Lone Star. Both show aired exactly twice and were cancelled in that second week. And just like that the bloodlust broke, and people moved on. Two shows had been sacrificed and the crowd was satisfied. And after that, every other new show, no matter their ratings, aired at least four more times before the next round of cancellations, giving busy audiences a chance to at least sample them.
As a showrunner with a struggling new show, you try to hold on long enough to see the first round of DVR numbers (live plus 3), which are becoming increasingly meaningful. See? you tell the networks, if the DVR numbers show a substantial ratings increase. People want to watch this show.
Read more on the Amazon Studios blog, Hollywonk.