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Why won't TV networks admit when a show is canceled?



Rejected-do-not-disturb2 I thought it was a simple question. But I should have known there is no such thing when the question involves TV networks and their programming.

Looking at a list of TV shows which were no longer airing, readers wanted to know: Had they been canceled? Were they simply on hiatus? Could a public response bring them back?

My first call, to a publicist for the CW to ask about its long-gone reality show Stylista, yielded a typical response, on background of course: The network hadn’t ordered any new shows and wasn’t airing the old ones. So, it’s probably canceled. But not officially.

A request to NBC over a long list of their uncertain series – Lipstick Jungle (below), Knight Rider, Chopping Block and America’s Toughest Jobs among them – brought a similar response on background, revealing that only one program, Toughest Jobs, was officially gone. Jungle was probably gone, Chopping Block is airing on and Knight Rider won’t be resolved until May, when the network’s new fall schedule is Large_lipstickjung released.

So, at a time when audiences have never been less certain about when shows are airing or for how long, why are the networks so squirrelly about admitting when a show is dead?

An informal poll of TV show creators I know didn’t yield many results, either. “The only thing I can think of is that these folks are highly indecisive, and decisions often take weeks or months to get made,” emailed one Emmy-winning creator who has had a few series canceled. “Some of the weirdness in admitting a show is canceled may really be weirdness about DECIDING a show is canceled.”

Rod Lurie, creator of the ABC drama Commander in Chief, had another take: “I suppose, and it’s just a guess, that the networks always want to leave a tiny door open just in case they get seller's remorse when they decide to dump a show -- like the way they reversed course on Jericho (at CBS).”

Fortunately, Tim Brooks, a retired, former executive at NBC, USA Networks and Lifetime – and co-author of the exhaustive Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows – had a few answers.

“The networks see nothing to gain by announcing a cancellation,” said Brooks. “They might irritate some creators or actors they want to work with who don’t to see press stories about ‘So-and-so went down in flames again,’ and they want to keep their options open.”

Pushingdaisies Brooks said networks usually only announce a shows cancellation if they think a pocket of fans will show up to boost ratings (ABC’s Life on Mars and Pushing Daisies). And while it’s easy to blame programmers for shifting shows around so much, that’s often an indication that a network is trying not to give up on a failing show, he said.

“The financing is so challenging on some of these shows, they are literally making decisions on them week to week,” he said. “One executive once said ‘Nothing’s ever canceled – it just goes on hiatus.’ And some shows have been on hiatus for 40 years.”

So if you’re having trouble figuring out whether a show has been canceled or not, you’re not alone.

And it’s on purpose. Does that make the frustration any easier to handle?

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:56pm]


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