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Summer-Glau.com Forum » Filmography » Other movies/shows » Have the networks given up on serialized scifi shows?
Have the networks given up on serialized scifi shows?
chrisdvanneDate: Wednesday, 06 Jul 2011, 16:10 | Message # 1
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I have often interesting discussions about tv shows with other members of this forum and i thought it was time to write a longer article out of these little bits of thinking.

Have the networks given up on serialized scifi shows?

By "serialized tv" i mean a tv show with long arc-stories (covering a season or half a season) , in contrast with a procedurial where the episode begins with a new story and ends with the resolution of the story (cop or lawyer or doc show).

Long arc-story are risky and requires a lot of involvement from the audience because the end of the episode is always an invitation to come back next week to see the new developments (to be continued...). If you miss 2 or 3 episodes in a row, you could feel lost when coming back.

Star Wars producer Rick McCallum’s is pessimistic about scripted TV itself :
Quote
Network television and cable television as we know it are completely imploding, so we’re not really sure that in five years’ time we can release a dramatic one-hour episode because it is all reality TV now.

I wouldn't go as far as him, even if Reality TV is gaining ground over scripted tv.

If you look at Networks best performer, Reality Tv has some greats hits in various domains (sing, dance contest, cooking,...) and it generates a lot of buzz but they don't matter in terms of syndication or future DVD sales or even recognition by the critics.

Serialized shows usually do great on DVD sales and here is the paradox : theses shows struggle to have more than 5 millions vievers and decent ratings but they do great in DVD sales (see True Blood, Lost and Heroes on the board below).

In 2009 the top TV Show DVDs (based on revenue):

* True Blood S1 ($61 million)
* The Office S5 ($30 million)
* Lost S5 ($29 million)* (was only available for ~3 weeks during 2009!)
* Heroes S3 ($25 million)
* Grey’s Anatomy S5 ($23 million)
* 24 S7 ($22 million)
* Family Guy S7 ($19 million)
* Dexter S3 ($17 million)
* Smallville S8 ($16 million)
* Southpark S12 ($15 million)

Source : tvbythenumbers

TSCC was no exception to the rule and had strong DVD and Blu-ray sales, especially the second Season; to my knowledge, this is the only tangible element in favor of a direct-to-DVD movie. But even that is not enough or all these shows would have continued on DVD otherwise.

Having strong DVD sales helps building the audience over time but don't be fooled, the networks prefer immediate cash coming from DVD sales to the building of an audience.
One could think that the network will release the DVD of past season during the off-season to allow the audience to watch the show on DVD before the next season premieres; or we observe that they release the DVD short before the premiere. Why's that so?

FX president John Landgraf gives the explanation :
Quote
The studio wants to piggy back on the show’s marketing for the subsequent season : they need to place and sell a bunch of DVD’s quickly and that seems to work for them if they go right around premiere. We’ve tried putting out seasons earlier so that people have more time to catch up in the off season ("Damages" & "The Riches") and it didn’t seem to work for either the show or the DVD sales.

Source : hitfix

Cable channels have at least two advantages over Broadcast Network in the buiding of a long term audience : they have the ability to schedule reruns and they can announce very quickly the renewal of higly-praised shows (Game Of Thrones), which nourrish the buzz arout the show.

Hard-core fans are never satisfied with the way a newtwork treats their beloved show but it happens a show is beeing given a second chance despite low ratings : Dollhouse, Jericho or V.
More, a move to the Friday "death-slot" may be better than a prematured cancellation in mid-season (like it happened for "The Cape) : TSCC, Firefly, Fringe. The last one even been renewed for one season, much to the surprise of everyone. In this case quality of writing and loyaulty of the fanbase (same for Chuck) did probably weight in the decision.

Scifi shows on broadcast network, wether returning or new, have seen an erosion of their audiences this year. Some returning shows were surprisingly renewed as we've seen, other were also renewed instead of a ratings decrease (Supernatural, The vampire Diaries), one had its final season anyway (Smallville) and one was cancelled (V). As for the new shows, this was an bloodbath : The Event (and Flashforward before him), No Ordinary Family or The Cape started with high/decent ratings but registered a rapid decrease in terms of viewers and ratings, leading to an inevitable cancellation.

Reminder for the 2010-2011 season : the five networks launched 45 new shows (all genre taken together) but only 12 will return next season. Scifi shows were no exception to the rule. Many of the cancelled show performed well but the networks (except NBC maybe) wants shows that perform big and quickly; they don't let a show find its stride. To that new standard, many iconic shows of the past would not have been renewed.

Overall, this doesn't bode well for the future of serialized shows, especially on broadcast network.

On the opposite, The Walking Dead is a hit on AMC, so is Game of Thrones (fantasy) or True Blood on HBO, to name a few. Falling Skies (TNT) is starting decent.
Even on cable, procedural dramas rules but at least they leave some space for scifi.

In this case, one can wonder if cable channels is better suited for serialized Scifi shows?

I'm tempted to think so.

A lot of high profile scifi shows are coming next season, like Terra nova (Fox), Alcatraz (Fox), Awake (NBC), Grimm (NBC), Touch (NBC); it looks like networks have not given up on the genre. I can't wait to see how they perform.

As for the Summer Glau Wiki, we will follow syfy new serie ALPHAS, premiere July 11, 10pm (ALPHAS thread on the forum); the fact that Summer Glau is rumored to guest star on the show may very well be one of the reasons.


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chrisdvanneDate: Friday, 08 Jul 2011, 09:47 | Message # 2
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Quote (michelangelo)
they can announce very quickly the renewal of higly-praised shows (Game Of Thrones), which nourrish the buzz arout the show.


This is one of the reasons TNT has just annouced they renew "Falling Skies" for a second season (10 episodes next Summer); the other tangible reasons being decent ratings and mostly the ability to attract the young male demographic (whereas TNT was rather young female focused).
Falling Skies has its haters but it's good for the buzz.

One argument i see very often on the net when it comes to sci fi shows sounds like this : "what's the use watching a scifi show live on tv when chances are it will be cancelled by the end of the season?"
This is a fallatious argument because if a lot of people do that the ratings will fall, so will the ads and finally the show will be cancelled. Annoucing at an early stage the renewal of a serie allows to free oneself from that argument.


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BlaziusDate: Friday, 08 Jul 2011, 14:37 | Message # 3
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The saddening thing is that a few decades ago sci-fi shows like Star Trek and Stargate thrived on TV. For example each Star Trek series with the exeption of TOS ran for 7 seasons while Stargate SG-1 lasted for a total of 10 seasons. These shows were serialized too with long story arcs(like the Dominion Wars or the Ori plotline).

However nowadays we have shows which aren't necessarily worse than the above mentioned examples but they can barely pull out more than 2 seasons, at least not those which I would regularly watch. For example the good people at the network cancelled Stargate Universe after two seasons (which was the heir of the highly succesful Sg-1 and probably had a huge fanbase) despite SgU was better in every possible way in my opinion. I think this speaks volumes of how things have changed over a few decades.


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chrisdvanneDate: Friday, 08 Jul 2011, 14:48 | Message # 4
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Unfortunately, everything i'm saying, and what you're saying also, are not speculations, it's facts based on numbers and observations. Tv shows on broadcast networks are not given a chance to hit their stride anymore.

Cable network have regularly taken market shares from the big networks :

Market shares on 18-49 demographics :
2000 4 big broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS) : 43%
2004 4 big broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS) : 36%
2009 4 big broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS) : 27%

These networks can not afford anymore to have tv shows that have average performance and mostly they cannot wait for them to build an audience with time; tv shows must perform big and right from the start.


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Message edited by michelangelo - Friday, 08 Jul 2011, 14:58
 
BlaziusDate: Friday, 08 Jul 2011, 15:01 | Message # 5
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So according to this TSCC and SGU for example wouldn't have been cancelled(at least not that quickly) if they were cable channel shows,right?

Summer Glau is so awesome, it isn't even funny!
Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!


Message edited by Blazius - Friday, 08 Jul 2011, 15:03
 
chrisdvanneDate: Friday, 08 Jul 2011, 15:52 | Message # 6
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Quote (Blazius)
So according to this TSCC and SGU for example wouldn't have been cancelled(at least not that quickly) if they were cable channel shows,right?


Wrong.
This is a commun mistake that most people do. They say : "given that TSCC is watched by 4 millions people and get 1.9 ratings in 18-49 adult demo on broadcast network, it would be a hit on a cable network". This is true that such numbers would be a great success on cable. But if this show moves to cable, IT WILL NOT KEEP THOSE NUMBERS, for many reasons. Those numbers will turn into something like (i approximate) 1 million viewers and 0.6 ratings.


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BlaziusDate: Thursday, 14 Jul 2011, 15:49 | Message # 7
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Yesterday I had a strange string of thoughts about this whole matter.

We are talking about how the channels and viewers attitude changed towards the sci-fi shows. However we hardly spoke about the changes of the shows themselves. When the genre lived its golden age the shows like Star Trek, Stargate, Babylon 5 were the major players. Each lasted for at least 5 seasons and were considered really successful. There were striking similarities in these shows. There were many aliens, many planets, exploring of these planets, interstellar policy, interstellar wars, space ships(many,many of them). There were clearly separable good and evil sides. The arch enemies were always cool and intimidating and very iconic(like the Borg or the Goa'uld) and you could certainly miss a few episodes without losing much because they were less serialized.

Todays sci-fi are a bit like X-files. The characters are all human, they live on earth or even if they fly in space they are doing pretty normal things and their greatest problems are "some family issues". An example is SgU which was criticized by the insufficient planet exploration, lack of a central villain and the too much character drama.

Personally I find the "modern" sci-fis much more deeper than the older ones but what if this dramatic change of concept is what causing the sci-fi fans to turn away from the genre?


Summer Glau is so awesome, it isn't even funny!
Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!
 
chrisdvanneDate: Thursday, 14 Jul 2011, 18:49 | Message # 8
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It's impossible to give a clear and definitive answer or we would send it to the newtworks and they will make a successful serie of it.

There always have been two types of scifi shows coexisting : the ones who are "in space" and the ones who are "on earth"; it would be difficult to make statistics but it's true that one of them seems to have outnumbered the other recently as you said. I will keep that in mind.

More, if you look at the upcoming scifi shows i mention on my first post, it's true that they're all grounded on earth, except Terra Nova but it's not an intergalactical battle either.

I already skiled over the subject with Devo on the Wiki but i will reserve my answer for a longer article (one more thread for the Wiki ;))


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chrisdvanneDate: Tuesday, 20 Sep 2011, 13:46 | Message # 9
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Comic-Con 2010 : these actors/actresses were involved in a lot of sci-fi shows in the last decade.

Non exhaustive list :
  • Lost
  • V
  • Pushing Daisy
  • Chuck
  • Firefly
  • No Ordinary Family
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Angel
  • The Cape
  • Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles


Comic-Con San Diego - July 23, 2010


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chrisdvanneDate: Friday, 03 Feb 2012, 18:09 | Message # 10
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Since most heavily serialised sci-fi series like The Event, Flash Forward, TSCC or V (and Invasion or Surface before them) don't last long on tv, it seems that writers try to balance differently the serialized and procedurial elements of the story, and by that i mean in favor of the procedurial format.
One has to realise that if professional bloggers prefer overarching stories, experience and ratings prove that tv watchers prefer procedurials; the fanbase ready to follow heavily serialised tv shows is not large enough to insure the survival of a show in most cases.
It showed in Alphas (Syfy) to a certain degree; it was even criticized by columnist working for entertainment and tv websites because the overarching story was not present enough in some episodes. Terra Nova (FOX) followed a similar pattern : the pilot opens many interesting overarching stories, then they are somewhat forgotten in the middle of the season (except a mention at the end of the episode), then they come back in the last two episodes and culminate on a cliffhanger.
This pattern has insured Alphas a second season and it would have been the same already for Terra Nova if the show had not so many flaws (contrarily to Alphas).

A newcommer has accentuated this pattern, namely Alcatraz (FOX).



The promo trailer (before it aired) led us to think it would be heavily serialized because they emphasized the mystery around the disappearance and reapperance of the 63's; though it turned out Alcatraz is pure procedurial with a 63-of-the-week and the bigger mythology is evoked furtively at the end of the episode.
Will this strategy be a winning one? Though the ratings for Alcatraz are not amazing (it pulled a 2.8 in 18-49 adult demo last Monday), it looks unlikely to be cancelled at this stage (but it was paired against NBC and CBS repeats this time).


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The1RussterDate: Saturday, 04 Feb 2012, 19:25 | Message # 11
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Episodic and serialized has both its advantages and drawbacks.

I like the concept of a season long story arc or theme which links the episodes. In that environment you can have one to many stand alone episodes depending on length of the season. That also allows the inclusion of some element in that standalone episode that can be used later in the main story arc thus making what seemed a one-shot a part of the whole. SG1 did that very effectively.

I like serialized dramas, when the program is good. Its what makes me come back for more. Episodic works great for sitcoms, soaps, or crime, family, legal, and medical dramas. It works great for sci-fi shows like Star Trek, in all its forms. If TSCC was episodic, giving us a terminator of the week approach, It would have died in S1. In S2 they gave us a few stand-alone episodes, which were very good, but few lent themselves well to the overall story.

Alcatraz ain't bad, but its too much of the criminal of the week when what we are really interested in is the mystery of what happened in 1963 and why they are suddenly reappearing now. It just occurred to me as I was writing that Alcatraz is like the illegitimate child of The 4400 and LOST. We have people reappearing after having been missing for decades, looking no older, and we have an island with a mystery.

Fringe has carried the combination of episodic and serialized very well. The program started off episodic, but it was slowly revealed there was an overarching story linking everything that was happening. Even now when they have a stand-alone episode, it has links to the main story. Last night's episode is a good example.

We know the main story of Terminator. Skynet destroys world and in the future John Connor leads the humans in the war against it and its machines. Skynet in turns tries to destroy him and his allies in the past. What Josh Friedman and his team did was give us that, but within the context of a family drama. the family was occasionally dysfunctional, but the family had a goal and a purpose. I think the work they did was excellent. I'm only disappointed that the show was handled poorly by FOX, and that the team abandoned so many plot threads from S1. But considering S1 was cut short by the writer's strike, and the problems that created, I think S2 was awesome. The serialized nature of the show was the better option as it allowed a complete story to be told.

Episodic or serialized? Serialized is good if a network is patient enough to build an audience for a program. Broadcast networks like FOX aren't friendly to such programs that usually do better on cable. Most broadcast networks prefer episodic shows. They claim it allows anyone to jump in at anytime during a season to watch, which is bullshit. Given the availability of a program on the internet, if you join a serialized show part way in, you can easily download or watch missed episodes online. I don't know, but does whether a TV program is one or the other affect how a network markets a show or sell advertising? I wouldn't think so, but you never know. Episodic is fine for a program that doesn't have to be concerned with continuity or a central story, but they tend to fall into the trap of regurgitating the same thing with minor variations. I'll use Bones as an example here.

Overall, the approach to a sci-fi drama falls into one of those two choices by the production team and later by the network. Joss Whedon wrote Firefly as a serialized drama with the gradual development or recovery of the River Tam character as the main story arc. FOX treated it like an episodic program which ruined continuity. I think you can say correctly FOX doesn't like serialized dramas, especially with the pressure they were putting on Josh Friedman for TSCC, which is how we got the stand-alones for S2. Alactraz is more episodic than others, with the main arc barely getting a mention. That I think is its downfall as that mystery is more interesting than the criminal of the week aspect. I expect FOX demanded that element.

Conclusion, don't take your sci-fi drama to FOX network whether its episodic or serialized. They'll either screw you or dick around with it and screw the viewer. Sorry if that sounded crude but . . . how else could I put it?

EDIT:

I realize i didn't actually answer the question of this thread. I really don't think they've given up on them. I think like all things you've got to find the right balance. Sometimes what they do works, sometimes not, but if a network and production team can find a balance that works for the story and the network, then I think serialized sci-fi has a future, but not on FOX.


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles REUNION


Message edited by The1Russter - Saturday, 04 Feb 2012, 21:40
 
chrisdvanneDate: Thursday, 27 Sep 2012, 11:49 | Message # 12
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SFX magazine has published in its Sept. 2012 issue a graphic that shows the duration of sci-fi shows on broadcast tv since 2007; 80% are cancelled after one or two seasons. Shows how bad it is.



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chrisdvanneDate: Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013, 23:04 | Message # 13
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'Terminator' Josh Friedman: 'Science fiction is tough sell on US TV'

Quote
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles creator Josh Friedman has claimed that sci-fi drama "isn't easy" to pull off on network television.

In a series of posts on his Twitter feed, Friedman defended Fox's decision to axe his show after two seasons in 2009, claiming that "many genre shows [don't] fly" on US television.


Read full article at digitalspy


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Summer-Glau.com Forum » Filmography » Other movies/shows » Have the networks given up on serialized scifi shows?
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