I was going to write a nice blog post about how summer has even more quality TeeVee than fall now (especially since 17th Precinct didn't get ordered). We've got Torchwood, Breaking Bad, Damages and True Blood. But then one of the best dramas I've seen in fucking YEARS got canceled and, well, here's the blog post you get.
In January, TNT president Michael Wright had this to say about Men Of A Certain Age:
We couldn’t be happier with the show. We look for a lot of different metrics on TNT. Obviously we want big ratings success, but we also want attention and good reviews from critics. This show works on a lot of levels for us.
Now that the show has rudely been canceled by Wright, it's time to call bullshit. But let's be fair. Whenever a network president says something like this about a show, you know the show is doomed.
I wasn't in the room when MOACA was unceremoniously yanked off TNT's airwaves (if there are even still things called airwaves). I have no reason to doubt Wright's sincerity when he talks about the quality of the show. As people have been joking since the cancellation, "I guess that one viewer is pretty upset," it's clear that the majority of Americans had never even heard of it.
As an aside, I think that if it's okay to joke about a lot of people losing their jobs, then I can joke when teachers gets laid off. Fair? Cool.
Who's fault is it that hardly anybody had even heard of the show when it was cancelled? Can you really blame the viewers? Especially the viewers who watch whatever's doing well on TNT? I don't watch anything on TNT, yet when I heard about MOACA, I thought it sounded intriguing and wanted to check it out. Does that make me better than all y'all who hadn't even fucking HEARD of it BUT WATCHED STUFF ON TNT?
But actually -- and it's sad for me to say this -- that does NOT make me better than you. This is still the business I'm in (I know -- SHOCKER). And as such, I find that it is somewhat helpful to know what's on the television machine. Even if I only watch an episode or two, I like to be familiar. And sometimes I've only watched an episode or two of shows and then given up, only to be pulled back when people told me I should reinvest (Veronica Mars comes to mind). Other times, the show has been on my radar but I'm a few seasons behind before I get into it (Friday Night Lights). But I'm rather proud to say that I watched Buffy from episode one. There are TeeVee critics who can't say THAT. And don't get me STARTED on people whose job it is to WATCH TEEVEE not watching TeeVee.
So I don't expect the regular TeeVee viewer to check everything out. It's not their job. It IS the job of the network to promote their shows. And if people tuning into Leverage didn't know about MOACA, then the fault lies squarely on the network's shoulders. Sure, I suppose people who like Leverage and whatever else is on TNT wouldn't have any interest in a quiet, well-written drama about men approaching fifty. After all, there are no aliens or heists or interrogation room scenes. But MOACA wasn't even one of those demanding shows, or tough shows. It was instantly likeable and -- networks LURVE this word -- relatable. And granted, the show wasn't of the TNT "brand." But if your brand is so tightly-focused, then don't pick the show up, even if you adore it. Because the cancellation day will be coming.
A sidebar on brands. I thoroughly understand the fact that networks need to brand themselves. I've been on shows that were so isolated in the schedule that there was no way to cross-promote them (cross-promotion means being able to promote a show throughout the week). I UNDERSTAND THIS PROBABLY BETTER THAN ANYONE. I love the puzzle of network programming. I think I would be good at it (and an executive told me this once, when I told her that Lone Star was going to fail). But cross-promotion has evolved into out-and-out branding and while some branding is a good idea because it gives the executives and writers guidelines on what the network will put on, too much branding means that your focus is so tight that you won't take any chances at all. And this isn't good creatively.
Oh, it works MONETARILY. Because if you put one light procedural on and people watch it, you can put thirty on and the same Goddam sheep will glue their eyeballs to the screen because Show 2 looks exactly the same as Show 1 except the actors vary slightly. That may work for a board of directors, but it doesn't work as a creative endeavor. And while I UNDERSTAND BETTER THAN ANYONE that television is a business, it's also got its creative side. A side, I may add, that is becoming increasingly diminished with every season.
Sidebar number two on network branding. If you want to see a network that knows its brand, check out CBS. It's really easy to know what to pitch there. It's also interesting that on occasion, CBS has tried to venture out of its brand and try something new, and that something new always fails. I do not blame the CBS executives for this. CBS has a very natural brand and demographic. It really works for them, which is why they continue to be such a big success. What MIGHT be interesting in the coming years is seeing if NBC's cable networks start leeching CBS's viewers. We'll see. Anyway, CBS developed a show with Sarah Michelle Gellar this year that clearly wasn't a CBS show, and it went to the CW. GREAT move. Incidentally, I was on a show that didn't fit on CBS and was handed off to UPN. The show SHOULD HAVE WORKED but guess what? No support.
What did TNT do to MOACA? Simple. They never told the audience what the show WAS. They didn't promote it, they didn't find a way to promote it, then they kept dividing up the seasons so the show got no momentum at all, it didn't do well, and it got cancelled. Remember when ABC yanked Lost around and viewers left? As soon as ABC gave Lost 13 episodes a season without a break, viewership came back. Because even though we have DVRs and never really have to know when something's on, there's still STORYTELLING at work. Episodic storytelling. It IS interesting that Falling Skies doesn't fit into the TNT paradigm either, but it's doing well because the network actually fucking PROMOTED it. I was on a terrific show that the network just didn't get at all, and didn't support. But they promoted the shit out of everything else. So I know how this thing goes, and that's how it went with MOACA.
More than that, and this REALLY FUCKING PISSES ME OFF, people in the industry didn't watch it. How do I know this? Because it never got nominated for a fucking thing. The people who vote for the Emmys are just trying to mimic the viewing audience. They want their Eminem Oscar cred. So why would they bother voting for a show that just TOLD GOOD STORIES WITH INTERESTING CHARACTERS? How sexy is THAT? The Emmy voters let this show down BIG-time. But then they let Friday Night Lights down, too, giving it the stupid fucking "final season" Emmy nomination that is, frankly, more insulting than just continuing to ignore it.
Remember when cable used to be a haven? It used to be the place where shows that didn't fit into the broadcast paradigm could thrive. But cable networks are owned by the parent companies of broadcast networks, so even though you think you're watching a rebel pirate cable network, you're really watching NBC with less of a licensing fee. And this means less risk-taking. And when a network like TNT takes a risk on MOACA and it fails, what do you think that does to further risk-taking?
Fucking obliterates it, that's what.
What's really galling about this is that we all GET IT. We had a really good drama idea we wanted to pitch, but we were told that we wouldn't be able to sell it because it was too much like Friday Night Lights. And you know what? THAT'S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. But think about that for a second -- one of the best dramas IN THE HISTORY OF THE FUCKING MEDIUM, and we can't pitch a show that is a similar kind of drama because Friday Night Lights is a FAILURE.
It's too horrifying to fathom. But when you think about the business end of things, yes. That's true. And NOBODY involved thinks it's right, but you can't change it. You just can't.
Because we all need to survive, and the only way to do that in this environment is to tell ourselves -- repeatedly -- that no matter what we are doing, we are being creative. Because we look at what happens with such a wonderful show like MOACA and we cringe, seeing how a real, honest voice is treated by a network publicity department and the asshat audience who's too stupid or too uncaring to recognize or appreciate quality.
While the network led the audience in this particular case, it just makes me despair that all of us creative types are ever going to tell you OUR STORIES in OUR VOICES. Because you don't care. All you want is shit blowing up, people taking shades off and squinting into the sun, pithy remarks while handcuffing suspects, a chase scene through Vancouver, kids singing Journey songs, and reality TeeVee.
And because all of this still runs on an ancient ratings system that doesn't involve ANYONE who actually gives a shit about storytelling, YOU WILL ALL CONTINUE TO GET YOUR WAY.
But know this -- the second you start complaining about how there's nothing on is one second before I fucking GUT YOU.
There WAS something on. You were just too lame to recognize it.