Now that the dust has settled from last week's flurry of network decisions for the fall season, it's quite clear that the marketplace has dramatically changed forever. The writers strike not only changed the climate, it altered some of the rules regarding how and why networks make their decisions about what constitutes success and failure for their shows.
A prime example involves the importance of ratings. Without a Trace won its time slot all year long, finished in the Top 30 (Top 20 most weeks) and had better ratings than such renewed CBS shows as Cold Case and Ghost Whisperer. But the production costs, coupled with its age (seven years) worked against it, and ultimately the network decided that Cold Case was more compatible (and less expensive).
NBC did the same thing with Medium, canceling it despite much better ratings than shows like Chuck. CBS quickly picked it up and will place it on Fridays after Ghost Whisperer. It also helps that CBS studios produce Medium, something that probably played into NBC's decision to terminate it.
It also doesn't hurt to have a track record and some pull with network types. Dick Wolf's made so much money for NBC they were willing to give him one and possibly two more years so that Law & Order can break the Gunsmoke record for a scripted drama's tenure. No one expects it to ever be the big audience winner it was before, and a new show with those ratings would have certainly gotten the ax.
Likewise, the clout built up over the lengthy tenure of ER no doubt helped salvage Southland, a show that started off well and then dipped every week the rest of its short season. Still, the past accomplishments of the ER production team were taken into consideration, as well as the fact NBC needs fewer new hours of primetime programming thanks to Jay Leno.
Also, it's much easier to spin off a hit show than develop a new property. NCIS keeps gaining audience share, so why not create NCIS: Los Angeles? You don't even have to come up with of a new name. That makes two NCIS shows, three CSIs and three Law & Orders.
In some cases, the networks are bringing back shows that weren't even hits in the first place. V did marginally well as a mini-series, but was far from a weekly success in the '80s, while Parenthood was a flop in the '90s. But they're both being revived for the fall. Scrubs is also being resurrected in some form, though no one exactly knows who will be in it or what it will look like. But it will mean an extra million a week in syndication profits for ABC, so they figure it's worth recreating a program everyone involved with assumed was ending this season.
But not everything's bleak on the network front. 24 is coming off a great season, Chuck did get renewed, and Lost will no doubt have a spectacular final year. What the networks truly need more than anything else is fresh hits. They had only one this season, The Mentalist, and none of the new comedies enjoyed breakout years. However both The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother are now established hits for CBS, and ABC hopes that Better Off Ted can emerge in that vein and that Ugly Betty will stage a comeback.
CBS will spend the summer doing some serious examination of <i>CSI</i>, which suffered significant ratings loss with the departure of William Petersen. Grey's Anatomy didn't take full advantage of the slide, but by year's end it was definitely challenging CSI for top honors on Thursday night.
NBC hopes the Jay Leno move proves commercially viable, while Fox is hoping So You Think You Can Dance will give them a fall hit to match American Idol and the CW brings back Melrose Place to pair with 90210, 21st century revivals of '90s staples.
If you're a big reality show fan, you'll love the summer network offerings. Otherwise, the summer cable season begins next week, and the next TVision will look at some of their top returning shows.