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Answer: From losing the creative team to losing stars to losing ratings, the reasons the show you’ve been working on gets cancelled are many in number, but usually, it boils down to…. (continued in David’s answer below)
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Answer: From losing the creative team to losing stars to losing ratings, the reasons the show you’ve been working on gets cancelled are many in number, but usually, it boils down to money. It’s sad for fans, but important to understand so that you can be prepared, and act accordingly.
The initial blush of a new show’s success rarely has people wondering whether the show will get cancelled. In the case of a show like Heroes, on which I was fortunate enough to have a recurring role, was cancelled by NBC in May of 2010, and was cancelled for a combination of reasons, despite its amazing first season, when ratings and money were plentiful.
First, understand that the harsh reality is that television programming is designed specifically to make money with advertising and product placement. Yes, there is art involved in making engaging and compelling shows that draw an audience, but in the end, the show must make money for the network, or eventually, even the most popular shows get scrapped. Heroes was a very popular show in its first season, then suffered from declining ratings, exacerbated by a writer’s strike and bad publicity, but saved for a time by online viewership, DVR viewership and international licensing fees.
So, in general, what does a show have to do to survive? Simple – it needs to make money. And that’s no different from the reasons why films get pulled from theaters, Broadway productions go dark and any other form of entertainment is shuttered by its producers.
In a nearly two-hour long conference call I held with Twitter users who are Heroes fans, very impromptu, late on the night that the announcement was made about Heroes’ cancellation, a lot of fans asked questions about how NBC could possibly not see that they supported the show, watched on TV, viewed on their DVRs, made use of video on demand, utilized online outlets like hulu.com (actually owned by NBC and others) and bought the DVDs for Heroes. You can get that conference call audio, in a rather large 45 meg file, here. It’s a good idea to save that file to your hard drive rather than stream it – just right-click (or control-click on a Mac if you don’t have a two-button mouse) and Save File As… to your hard drive.
I tried to be sensitive to the sad feelings that some had about losing their favorite show (and it was one of mine as well) as I answered that critical question. But in the end, the cost of producing a show like Heroes outpaced the income needed to give up an hour each week of prime time network television time. And despite the fan support, NBC felt that Heroes had to go. And even if fans had mounted a letter-writing campaign, the decision had been made.
This is not to say that fan support doesn’t count – it does. When Heroes had an outstanding audience share in key age-sex categories, or what are called demographics, the money flowed in as advertisers found themselves reaping an unexpected bounty of eyeballs watching the show. Over time, that audience share dropped to less than 1/3 of the level seen in that glorious first season, and the DVR and Internet market had also risen.
Neither one actually ended up being a help to Heroes’ numbers. Here’s why: although the numbers of after-the-fact viewers via DVRs and both legal streaming and illegal downloading world wide showed Heroes to be far and away the most popular show on television in the world, DVR viewing with users fast forwarding through the commercials, and illegal Internet filesharers doing the same meant that despite the popularity Heroes enjoyed, that popularity would not, and could not translate into advertiser dollars.
See, no advertiser wants to pay good money to support a show, only to have their message ignored, blocked or otherwise unable to be seen. Sure, it’s wonderful for the viewer to avoid commercials, but that’s kind of reneging on an implicit bargain: you, the viewer, gets the show for free, and we, the advertiser, get to try to influence you to buy our stuff. If the advertising in a show like Heroes isn’t seen, there’s no way it can sell more stuff.
When you talk to your fans after your show has been cancelled, be sensitive to the fact that these harsh realities aren’t anything they really have compassion for – they just know that their favorite show has been cancelled. If you can talk to them at length, try to calmly and earnestly counsel them against blaming the networks as incompetent or insensitive to their fandom and support. Make sure they know that you care about what they think (and you really should care, as these are the consumers of your work).
If you’re on a show that’s cancelled, be aware that television and film work is an almost timeless source of entertainment, and the audience, your fans, have a long memory. Who doesn’t still know about I Love Lucy, THe Honeymooners, Gunsmoke, Hawaii 5-0 and other shows from decades ago? Your work will live on DVD, in Internet download libraries and on video on demand for years to come. And if you can handle the disappointment you’ll feel about your show being cancelled with grace and sensitivity, it will help you move on to the next project you do – which might be even bigger.
What’s your answer to this acting question? Let me know in the comments below.
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I’m sad to see Heroes go, but honestly I think it was time. I also think that the show stumbled a bit with the writers strike and never seemed to regain or live p to it’s season 1 promise.
However as a viewer I think networks need to rethink their stance on DVR & even illegal downloads. For one thing, with digital tv the only game in town, as afar as consumers are concerned ALL tv is pay tv. Does this mean they should scrap commercials and perhaps look at product placement? I don’t know. I do know that in the attempt to be competitive some nights end up being heavier tv viewers nights. For me that means I watch what I can, slip what I can pull up ON Demand later and DVR whatever is left.
I’m sure TPTB have convincing arguments against everything I just said, so I’ll just say this; I watched HEROES to the very end. I’m glad we had the show warts and all. Hearing the phrase, “Save the cheerleader, save the world” will forever make me smile.
You are right about why shows get cancelled, but you cannot be oblivious to why Heroes got cancelled, or the “Big picture” if you will. The show was not making enough money, not because people kept DVR’ing episodes, or watching them streaming from websites, but because after Season 1 the writing of Heroes became so horrible that they lost fans…A LOT of fans.
Tim Kring has also blamed Heroes’ lackluster ratings on DVR and internet streaming, but the fact of the matter is there are a lot of popular shows that stream online and get DVR’d by people all the time, yet their ratings haven’t suffered a hit like Heroes did. Fans are not idiots! When you begin a series with flawless intertwining storylines, fascinating character development, and unexpected surprises, fans expect to see the same quality of writing and storytelling for the whole series. So what if there was a writer’s strike? If the writers of the show were serious about making this show great, they wouldn’t have cheapened out with the storyline. Although the writers strike did signify the ‘beginning of the end’ in season 2, it was the WRITERS and PRODUCERS who buried the series. A good indicator of this (besides DVRing and streaming, which apparently seems to be a popular issue) is DVD sales for the show. Season one has outsold any other season of Heroes by a very large margin, and the same goes with Heroes merchandise.
Although I do feel for you as an actor, and understand your need to defend the series, you must know of whom the real fault of Heroes cancellation lies, and it is not in us fans or NBC. Although a part of me is sad to see the show go, I agree with milaxx, it was time. Heroes was my favorite show, and with its cancellation, I hope that Tim Kring and all of the writers involved (except Bryan Fuller, who did a fabulous job on the episodes of which he was involved) are ASHAMED of themselves for what they did to this series, and learn from this mistake that has caused the great actors of Heroes to lose their jobs.
Good luck in the future David!
I am really sad to see Heroes go, because I was an early adopter, and faithful message board viewer. I held Heroes parties at my house with my friends to watch each episode, even though in my opinion, the series got progressively worse.
The first season was mind blowing, after the writer’s strike, I felt it had no direction, and that broke my heart.
I really hope that a movie is created, sort of like how Firefly ended, so that we can have some sort of resolution. Maybe even do something like direct to DVD series… may SciFi will pick it up. I dunno.
I’m going to miss the series, and for me, it will always be one of the best rides of my life.
See you later Doyle. :)
While I respect your opinion, I think that the show ultimately failed because the quality of writing dropped. For instance, Sylar became good, then straight up evil again, then sort of good, then bad, then definitely 100% probably good with the most recent season. That doesn’t make for a struggle with your own darkness, that makes for a wishy-washy character, although I admit that I was hoping this last one would stick through the next season. I like anti-heroes.
And while income from commercials has certainly been a major part of the television operation so far, I absolutely disagree with the statement that there is an implicit agreement that we will watch them. Nobody has willingly watched commercials for years, unless they are eye catching. Before DVR, people taped shows to skip through the commercials, or they went to the bathroom or made a sandwich during the commercials. It’s nothing new that people don’t watch the commercials any more than they can help it. Companies need to get more innovative with their advertising. Heroes actually did a good job of that, with their comic based advertising with Nissan. Granted, I hated the Cube, but I noticed it.
Not to mention, Hulu actually forces you to watch the commercials, so it should be a boon to the network, not a negative. And I feel like Hulu has stopped a lot of the illegal downloading that happens, because most of us poor college students would rather not steal, but can’t afford cable, and don’t get good reception of over the air TV.
Oh, and I also wanted to say that, despite all that, I did watch Heroes from beginning to end. I was disappointed when it started having bad seasons, but I believed that the good times would come again. I’m sorry that the show didn’t get a fifth season, because I was hopeful that it would be another good one.
Well so the shows are funded by advertisers right? so no advertisers no money to go on, as people have said, the quality should have mantained, the commercials are just so past century, the way Nissan did it was awesomely creative and sure it made some good money selling Cubes, so the tv stations should demand advertisers have a clever and innovative way to show their ads or just get off the train because it will hurt more than do good to the show as we have seen, just you don’t expect people stop downloading Torrents to watch the show HD on their computers, people will do it more and more is just like that so tv gets creative or will be diging its own grave, I have an idea how about broadcasting only over Internet and with subtitles available for anyone, millions do downloads or watch internet because of that, have a frame of advertising or have a fast non invasive commercial clip in-between the episode, a lot can be made, but something is true, the traditional tv era is past, the internet tv future is NOW! :)
Thank you, David, for giving us mourners a place to chat last night. And for your insider information. I knew why it was cancelled but lesser shows have survived so I still held hope.
Best of all success to you in the future!
Hmmm interesting perspective. Advertisements & commercials is what makes me watch HBO or Showtime and cable. I as well as many viewers despise commercials and believe them to be a waste of time. Not one advertisement on NBC has ever enticed me to spend my hard earned money on. I believe this is why many people prefer to DVR/Tivo their fave shows or watch them online so they CAN fast forward thru the waste of time given to ads. It’s a crappy deal when a network depends on ratings of few when so many still watched the show. They may have pissed and moaned about it, but they still watched. I was a new viewer…I didnt start watching it til season 4 and then I bought the other seasons as well. I enjoyed the storylines. But one good thing about the cancellation of Heroes is now I don’t have to suffer thru watching a crappy network like NBC anymore. I’ll go back to watching my cable tv. LOL
I’ve heard of this show, and haven’t really watched it… but I feel sorry for the fans. When a network cancels a show we end up feeling betrayed. It’s happened to me SO MANY TIMES! I’ve given up on T.V and won’t watch it until I know a show has had enough seasons a good ending or whatever. Sure they need money, but whats the advertisement money doing? Not paying enough. T.V shows in the old days weren’t just BAM created then DOOM cancelled in just a few months! If networks want to help themselves then advertise “DVR’s downloading can make us loose money and might get your favorite show cancelled!” would really help. I didn’t even know DVR’S didn’t help until a few months ago. Of course I’m too paranoid about viruses to download anything. So?? How is this ever going to be fixed?! Because until I start seeing shows last for more than 13-20 episodes, I’m sticking to anime, and other countries drama. Sure their not as good but at least they don’t lead us on then drop us like a new born giraffe.
Absolutley well written and sell explained, but here is a question that is rattling my brain????? I noticed one cable network that sticks in my mind that all of sudden will cancel a show after 40 or 50 episodes for no apparent reason, I keep up on the ratings, and generally this shows ranks as the number 3 or better show on that network and the reruns pull huge numbers as well, and apparently the show has been cancelled……. I’m confused when the same network is renewing shows with less than half the numbers, I can also guarantee the budget is much bigger on these other shows, considering the talent they are using. Why does this occur???????I will tell you that there are other networks with similar genre shows and this show seemed like it was taking over their numbers, by the way this show was pulling these numbers with almost no advertising, I guess would it be safe to say that networks are also saving money when they are not occupying advertiser space with promo’s for their shows? I sound frustrated only because I hate when I cannot decipher things.One last point this network has approx 33 shows on and this show was ranking as said at number 3 consistently. any input is greatly appreciated.
This could easily be that the network wants to leave the show on a high note, rather than on a death watch, or the show runner is moving on, or things entirely unrelated to ratings.
Could be any number of things.
reason why most viewers including myself dont like advertising simple fact to many at one time. back in the day for example you’re watching “petticoat junction” you’ll see a commercial within 15 next one last 2 minutes of the show. that was great viewers had a chance to focus on what the show was about,who the characters was. these days your lucky to find out who or what everything is about before a commercial break your concentration to get involve with the said show by then viewers gives up.
meant to say first 15 minutes. that is enough time to establish who the characters are and figure the plot before advertisers discourage you with un-wanted advertising
advertising has ALWAYS been a distraction. but as i see now advertisment is the main game to make money not entertainment. entertainment was always and will be illusion to the public. so basically actors working for advertisers.
Yes – and if that’s a complaint on your part, I’d suggest you adjust your thinking and embrace that concept. Actors do work, eventually, for advertisers if they choose to do any commercial, television or studio feature work. They also work for advertisers when they get to Broadway. If you don’t understand that, you’re fooling yourself. I often will advise actors who want to be successful at making money, at becoming high paid stars, that their job is to create content that fills in the empty space between commercials. If there are no commercials, no matter how the companies choose to present them, there is no content. There is art and there is commerce. You need to be great, and comfortable, even enthusiastic, with both.
I think its all a big scam. In the film business you could not get away with pumping out material full of plot holes and without an ending in sight. Cable shows sucker viewers in to watching shows that literally have no direction or purpose knowing it will be cancelled before they have to make sense of it. Battle Star Galactica is the only show I can think of in years that actually had a purpose and a direction. For what you pay in cable bills you could own every film you like and skip on watching things that waste your time like sitcoms and cable shows.
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