TV's Failures: Perfect Testing Ground For Money-Making Success

Walt Disney went bankrupt -- and came close a few other times -- before he finally got to build Disneyland in 1955.

The obvious lesson to be learned here: any entertainment effort can be a tough business. Think about modern-day TV producers, who fail again and again before getting it right. Before making a deal with ABC, producer Marc Cherry was rejected by cable network Lifetime for “Desperate Housewives."

So who is failing right now in TV -- programming, advertising, marketing? There are plenty of TV businesses out there missing the mark-big time, yet still hopefully figuring out what went wrong and moving forward.

Now is your chance to place your bets -- just as the new season is getting started. Where are the gems in waiting? Or perhaps the better bet is whether newcomers of a year ago could spring ahead, like Fox’s “The Following” and NBC’s “Revolution.”

Broadcast networks make a living on failure -- like 80% or 90% of the time. It’s expected. But it doesn’t go to waste. You can figure out what scripts don’t work -- in part or in total; what actors don’t match up; and what story arcs are a waste of time.



Every year each network orders 20-some pilot episodes, at an average cost of $2 million for a sitcom and $5.5 million for a drama. Typically, you need four seasons of TV broadcast airtime to make any money in selling after-market rights.   And this year -- gulp! Expect perhaps rougher times.

It’s essentially a TV lottery. And yet year after year TV networks -- the core for most big media companies -- keep making money. They are profitable despite all the waste that seemingly comes from hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs. Does that sound like failure? A recent report in Bloomberg recommends CBS’ stock. (Yes, there a many other factors that go into this conclusion.)

If you can come up with an “NCIS” or perhaps an “Under the Dome” and sell it around the world (and on digital platforms), as well as continuing to reap in big advertising revenue, you are probably doing something right. But it also means blowing it -- a lot.

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