Not Totally Forgettable: Those High-Rated But Canceled Network Shows

Every year we get one of these: a high-rated new TV show that’s still canceled.

This year's honor goes to CBS' "Unforgettable," starring Poppy Montgomery. At a healthy 12 million overall average viewers and a very decent 2.5 rating among key 18-49 viewers, it would seem a no-brainer to stay on the air.

As a measure of comparison, very few individual episodes on cable TV networks have reached this lofty 12 million goal -- some Disney Channel "High School Musical" specials, The History Channel’s recent mini-series "Hatfields & McCoys," an ESPN "Monday Night Football" game.

But you say: "Oh, that's cable. They have a dual-revenue stream. They can support lower-rated TV shows in general."  But now so do network television series, with retransmission revenues that are growing. You might say, "network shows still cost more than show on cable networks." Yes, but the gap is getting smaller.



Sure, there are obviously bad TV shows that are poorly produced and low-rated. But even those shows  -- in retrospect -- always seem not so pathetic in the rear-view mirror. New shows replacing canceled network shows almost always do worse than the shows they replace.

Why did CBS make this decision?  Too many older viewers? Not enough upside trending of those remaining viewers? Advertiser rejection of some sort?  CBS executives would only say that it wasn't what was wrong with "Unforgettable," but what was right with the new stuff.

If that doesn't sound too clear, you should understand this: The show might return for a summer airing in 2012 with a 13-episode slate.

We have seen this kind of network hedging before concerning popular shows that have been abandoned. Warner Bros. moved its "Southland" show from NBC to TNT; former ABC "Cougar Town" will go to TBS. Former Fox show "Arrested Development" will now get a shot on Netflix.

TV producers -- like  Sony Pictures Television in the case of "Unforgettable" -- also believe that the money sunk into a series shouldn't go to waste. After around four seasons of episodes, a show can theoretically make back its investment should there be some sort of aftermarket -- syndication, cable, or new digital platforms.

What isn't clear is what becomes of development for future TV shows and their renewal process. Where do advertisers fit into this? Perhaps that doesn't matter. Unless there is some specific branded entertainment association in these shows -- mostly in scripted TV series -- there isn't much advertiser loss.

We like to think our networks are a consistent bunch, especially CBS. It doesn't seem to replace many TV shows year in and year out.

Still, in a more perfect world, perhaps, TV shows with some decent level of audience association -- and especially those with a big value of some 12 million regular viewers --  should continue.



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