Have Networks Cancelled The Word ‘Cancelled’?

By November 22, 2016
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Do you remember that variety show put together by Ozzy Osbourne and his family called Osbournes Reloaded on Fox? What about Secret Talents of the Stars, a CBS show where celebrities were tasked to compete in ways that were different than their profession.

quarterlife-inset112216Come on, you can’t forget Quarterlife! That show was the bomb! And it came from a solid source: MySpace. And it was on NBC during the days when it was considering filling its 10 p.m. slot with an aging late-night host.

You might not remember those shows at all because they were all cancelled after a single episode. It was almost the most extreme of cancellations a network could do (outside of cancelling before a show debuted). In fact, early cancellations were typically the highlight of the television season, trying to find out which shows were such a misstep that networks wanted to simply wipe them from history.

But if you go back and look at the number of television shows axed by the networks this season, after one episode or otherwise, you’re going to find something very startling … there are none.

That’s right. It’s Nov. 22, officially Week 10 of the 2016-17 season, and among the five broadcast networks, there has not been a single cancellation. Don’t believe us? Take it from some real experts, those who cover the advertising industry at Ad Age.

A steady diminishment of gross ratings points and the hope that delayed viewing may translate into a compensatory uptick in commercial deliveries have stayed the executioner’s hand in unprecedented fashion. As of Friday evening, none of the broadcast season’s 20 new series have been purged from the prime-time schedule.

Does that mean the networks have gone back to the practice they employed in the 1970s and 1980s – you know, the ones that gave television shows a chance? A system that allowed shows that needed time to find its sea legs – like Cheers and Seinfeld – to actually find its sea legs?

That would be awesome, especially in today’s very crowded television environment. But sadly, that’s not the case. As reporter Anthony Crupi explains, it’s not that shows are not being cancelled. It’s just the networks aren’t calling it “cancellation” anymore.

It’s like instead of declaring someone dead, you simply state there will be an extra seat at the breakfast table in the morning.

Much of what is currently happening with this year’s batch of low-rated new series is a matter of semantics. When ABC on Oct. 25 trimmed its initial order for the Scandal substitute Notorious from 13 episodes to 10, it effectively separated the show’s head from its body.

And with good reason, Crupi adds. The ratings for Notorious are just notoriously bad.

With just one unscheduled hour left to air, Notorious is as cancelled as a series can be.

That’s the thing. The networks aren’t racing to throw a new show up ahead of its scheduled midseason replacement premiere. Instead, networks are letting shows run their course, even with trimmed schedules. They save money by cutting episodes yet to be produced, and then try to recoup what was spent in hopes there could be at least a small ratings uptick by the end of the run.

So when you hear that a show’s season order has been cut, that is a sign to be worried. Because that’s pretty much the same as when networks would announce that a show would go on a “hiatus,” or that a presidential candidate was “suspending” a campaign. Sure, none of those statements sound permanent – but they are simply replacements for the phrase, “you’re cancelled.”

frequency-inset112216That means those hoping to see more Frequency or No Tomorrow on The CW schedule? Forget it.

Yet, there is some hope with the new practice. Because networks aren’t making much money on repeats (or throwing in shows no one has ever heard of in those slots), the networks ultimately give shows a chance. So say Frequency suddenly sees a trending audience increase in those final episodes … that could be enough for The CW to possibly give the show another chance next season.

But then again, that’s still a rare phenomenon. Because for every Cheers, there’s a Fringe.

What can you do? Keep watching the shows you love. And hope that someday soon, Nielsen comes knocking on your door, asking if you’d like to share your viewing habits.

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael has spent more than 18 years of his way-long journalism career in entertainment reporting as the founder of SyFy Portal, which would become Airlock Alpha after he sold the SyFy brand to NBC Universal. He's based in New York City.