Commentary

Vi The F**k?

First Philippe Dauman. Then Larry Wilmore. Now Jim Gaffigan. Why has Viacom shown the door to three of its most talented men?

OK, so ousted CEO Dauman was a casualty of boardroom politics, even though he may have been the media conglomerate’s best hope at turning around many of its misfortunes. Politics is politics. Apparently, so are cancellations.

Or, as former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart told “The Nightly Show” founder and former host Wilmore during a surprise appearance on the show’s final episode, “Don’t confuse cancellation with failure.”

A lot has been written about Viacom’s decision to cancel “The Nightly Show,” and in particular, its failure to resonate with an audience. But as Stewart implied, the audience it failed to resonate with was the Viacom executives who made the decision to pull its plug.

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I’m not a TV critic, just a trade hack, but I think those Viacom executives made a big mistake on that one. And on “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” too. For different reasons.

One thing they had in common was that both Wilmore and Gaffigan could have been genuine franchises for Viacom, because they had all the tenets of great brands: relevance and differentiation.

I don’t know all the behind-the-scenes politics -- and no doubt economics -- but I do know that both Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show” and TV Land’s “The Jim Gaffigan Show” were like no other shows on television. And to me, anyway, they were very good. They were, in my household, appointment TV.

Honestly, it took a while for “The Nightly Show” to resonate with us. Launching in the shadows of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” is, as they say, a tough act to follow. But over time, it found its own unique voice. And in the wake of Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show,” I believe it began to resonate.

Without taking anything away from Trevor Noah’s version of “The Daily Show,” which also took a while to fully click, I honestly think “The Nightly Show” was doing a better job of tackling late-night TV’s topical news humor, and was far more diverse in its portrayal.

I’m not sure if it was its time slot leading out of “The Daily Show,” or the fact that it didn’t seem to resonate as much with big brand name sponsors, but it was a keeper and should have been nurtured. If for no better reason, than the fact that it was the only mainstream show of its kind.

As for “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” it was just downright funny. And an immensely creative take on what has otherwise been a trite and largely formulaic genre, the sitcom. Yes, the whole premise of the show was about putting Gaffigan into situations setting him up as the brunt of the joke, but it did it so well.

We may never know the real politics behind these cancellations, but I can’t help wondering if, for Gaffigan, anyway, a recent episode depicting a group of TV Land executives walking out on him as he was set to do a standup performance at a New York comedy club wasn’t somehow prophetic, or maybe an insider joke he already knew at the time.

In any case, neither Gaffigan nor Wilmore -- or for that matter Dauman -- failed. They were simply canceled. It was the people at Viacom who made the decisions that failed.

4 comments about "Vi The F**k?".
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  1. Rick Thomas from MediaRich Marketing, August 24, 2016 at 11:38 a.m.

    What makes these shows different than those in daytime syndication?  Or prime time?  Or anywhere else in the world of TV?  Nothing except the content.  If content doesn't drive audience then you're done.  If you have no ratings you have no revenue.  That's been a simple economic reality for television for way too long.  And it's not going to change.  It's all about the economics not about creativity.  After all is said and done and you end up in the red... 

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, August 24, 2016 at 11:53 a.m.

    @Rick Thomas: With respect, I disagree. I don't believe good content is sufficient to determine success in television anymore. The reason is there simply is too much content -- and much of it is actually very good. The industry currently televises more hours of original programming than people have time to watch: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/258477/not-so-novel-idea-for-solving-the-tv-glut-going-o.html   

    In that environment, what is required is continuity, consistency and commitment for a show to "resonate" with an audience. As I said, I am no critic and I may be wrong, but I believe both "Nightly" and "Gaffigan" had the tenants to do that, because they were relevant and differentiated. You and others may not agree.

    But to your last point, I believe having good content is not enough. It's one of the reasons I believe NBC's Olympic ratings trended downward. The difference in the TV viewing environment in just the past four years is significant, because on top of all the new hours of original programming that have come into traditional linear TV, viewers also have a multitude of new digital video options to choose from too. In years past, simply putting the Olympics on was good enough to guarantee success. Today, you have to give people a reason to spend their time viewing them. I think that's where NBC really failed. And it wasn't just promotion. It was helping people navigate the user experience.

    Again, I may be wrong. "Nightly" and "Gaffigan" may not have been good enough, and no amount of commitment from Viacom may have enabled them to find an economically viable audience. But I can tell you at least one viewer who is disappointed to see them go. -- Joe

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, August 24, 2016 at 12:41 p.m.

    Simple.  Ratings.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 24, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

    Joe, your point about there being too much content is right, not that this is surprising as there are hundreds of channels and/or platforms, not the mere handful we had in 1980, so naturally there is much more programming out there. What has happened, as a result, is that many viewers fail to even sample many of the shows. If you check the TVQ findings, which ask people if they are "familiar" with shows before giving their opinion of them, the familiarity levels are, on average, a fraction of what they used to be .And this is even more true of new cable fare.

    As to whether much of TV's program content is "good", "fair" or "poor" that's a matter of opinion and I doubt that a high proportion of the abundance would be rated "good" if there were an objective way to do this. It should also be noted that when a new show is announced and appears, it initially attracts people who are most into the subject matter or the star ( s ) and this is what we see all of the time, not just for the programs in question. So first episode or even first week sampling is fairly high but all too often, the ratings decline afterwards, not only because others who might become fans don't sample the show but because the interest of the early enthusiasts fades and they---those who should be core viewers----either stop watching or greatly reduce their frequency of viewing. What causes this? Most often it's because the new show---or its star (s ) wax repetitive and fail to deliver what was promised---or assumed ---by the concept's fans. Result: low ratings and cancellation.

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