Tube Talk: Unknown numbers

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributor

Every spring ad buyers gather in New York as broadcast and cable networks – and now streaming services, too – throw star-studded presentations to reveal their fall lineups.

It’s also when a lot of casts and crews of current series learn whether or not they’ll have jobs to return to.

It’s a nerve-wracking time for fans, too.

Last week, Fox announced their critically-praised Andy Samberg police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine wouldn’t be returning. Fans were outraged. By the next day NBC proudly proclaimed it had picked Brooklyn Nine-Nine up for sixth season. Fans rejoiced.

Timeless fans faced a similar ordeal during last year’s upfronts when NBC canceled the time-travel series (co-executive produced by Rockford’s own Shawn Ryan) only to reverse their decision a day or two later.

Unfortunately, this year Timeless is again on the brink of cancelation again despite being a critical darling with a massive social media following (the show’s super fans have dubbed themselves Clock Blockers). It’s a good thing NBC’s Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt (also originally from Rockford, believe it or not) decided to hold off on deciding whether to renew or cancel Timeless – and NBC’s bubble show, the comedy Champions – until the season has concluded.

Why is that good? Because Sunday night’s two-hour season finale of Timeless trended #1 on Twitter and the overnight ratings showed a slight uptick from the previous week. The figures could go up a bit once the +3 ratings are in.

By the time this column runs, the fate of Timeless may already be sealed. Hopefully with a renewal, because the odds of reversing cancellation two years in a row are pretty steep, even if the fans had a time machine.

In this day and age, few shows are safe from cancellation unless they constantly win their time slots. Even then, some might still be at risk of cancellation, especially if a big production budget is involved, as with ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which as of now is still on the bubble.

For networks, programming is a numbers game, and ratings comprise only part of a complicated equation. Audience demographics factor into how much ad revenue a show can command, the costs of acquiring or producing a series are considered, and even social media activity can be taken into account, because all of the tweets, shares, and likes from fans are essentially free promotion.

Once programming executives have all of the numbers for all of the shows, they have to figure out which combination of series will appeal to the network’s audience, fit in the schedule, and work within the network’s budget. It’s a harder job than most fans realize.

Sure, networks want good, entertaining shows, but the bottom line is always the bottom line. R.

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