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When it comes to naming the sneakiest people on the planet, most people would probably come up with politicians, criminals and pranksters, among others. You might not find any television execs on there, but this television season has proven that network heads have gotten deviously wise about how to handle failing shows that doesn’t necessarily involve canceling them. And so, unlike almost every year previous, we’re almost in November without any freshman broadcast network series having faced immediate cancellation.
Television is definitely an area of entertainment where trends are prominent, and this fall season’s in-vogue behavior involves chopping up episode orders rather than axing shows outright. You might have noticed that there have been a lot of stories in the past few weeks about first-year shows like NBC’s Truth Be Told and ABC’s Blood & Oil getting pared down to fractions of what their initial episode orders were, and those are definitely not alone. Nearly every single low-rated show populating the network TV-scape has seen its episode count diminished, but none have been excised completely.
There are several reasons for this overall change-up in behavior, not the least of which is the networks themselves not wanting to be seen as having produced terrible programming, especially while shows on cable and streaming are generally viewed as being of a higher quality. Shortened orders also allow the networks to make the most of their investments in the shows, even if airing reruns of more popular shows would be better ratings-wise. Plus, not canceling series straightaway saves networks from directly dealing with angry fanbases quick to protest too-soon endings. There are always those that complain, but there’s the silver lining of at least seeing all of a show’s produced episodes airing.
And as E! Online points out, canceling a show too early might ruin the network’s chances of getting that show a second-life through streaming acquisitions. After all, Netflix and Hulu probably won’t be as interested in picking up a show that only lasted 4 episodes on the air over one that made it through an entire season, even if that season only happens to be ten episodes. Or at the very least, they won’t be interested in paying very much for those projects.
On the flip side, it’s possible that networks are cutting down their orders in order to take a better look at what wasn’t working, in order to retool and bring a better batch of episodes later into the series run without canceling anything. But probably not.
By this point last year, we’d already bid farewells both fond and not-so-friendly to Manhattan Love Story and Selfie, to name but a couple, and Fox spent part of last summer canceling Hieroglyph and Us & Them before either of them had even aired. So now we wait to see which freshman series will be the first one to meet its maker.