There's a 'Catch-22' in TV drama development
FILE - This undated file photo provided by ABC shows Anthony Edwards in a scene from "Zero Hour." Edwards plays Hank Galliston, a magazine publisher who descends into an historical mystery after his wife is kidnapped. The first of 13 filmed episodes reached 6.4 million people and did particularly poorly among the youthful demographic ABC targets. The second episode was down to 5.39 million viewers, the third 5.05 million, and then ABC pulled the plug. (AP Photo/ABC, Phillippe Bosse, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — Jason Mittell had other things to do last month when ABC aired a two-hour debut of the drama "Red Widow," so he set his digital video recorder to capture it.
Then the Middlebury College professor and Just TV blogger saw the show's disappointing ratings the next day. He deleted the DVR file. If the show already appears to be on thin ice, why bother watching?
Skittish viewers who guard their time are making the already difficult task of establishing new dramas on broadcast television even harder. If the show becomes a hit, technology offers many ways to catch up later. It's just one more advantage for cable networks at a time when they already seem to have the upper hand with dramas.
"Zero Hour," the series that Zack Estrin helped produce for ABC, debuted on Valentine's Day. Starring Anthony Edwards, "Zero Hour" demanded a viewer's attention as it laid out a complex conspiracy that began when the wife of Edwards' character was kidnapped.
The first of 13 filmed episodes reached 6.4 million people and did particularly poorly among the youthful demographic that ABC targets. The buzzards began circling. The second episode was down to 5.39 million viewers, the third 5.05 million. Then ABC pulled the plug.
The reluctance of viewers to try something new feeds a vicious cycle, he said.
"Audiences don't watch because they fear it's going to be taken off, and it's taken off because audiences don't watch," he said. "It is a challenge for these types of shows going forward. You wonder if 'Lost' came on today, would it have as many viewers right off the bat? Or would the audience be too gun-shy?"
For viewers who did become interested in the story, Estrin said ABC plans to air the rest of the filmed "Zero Hour" episodes this summer.
When ABC decided to ax the military drama "Last Resort" earlier this season, creator Shawn Ryan was given notice and the chance to write an ending for the series in its 13th and last episode. It led to some furious final minutes of loose string-tying. Ryan was lucky; not all creators get that luxury.
FILE - In this undated file photo provided by HBO, Nick Nolte appears in a scene from the HBO original series "Luck." A drama set at a California racetrack, HBO canceled the horse racing series after a third horse died during the production of the series. (AP Photo/HBO, Gusmano Cesaretti, File)
So far this season, Fox pulled the series "The Mob Doctor" after 11 episodes and ABC canceled "666 Park Avenue" after nine episodes. People barely had a chance to become familiar with CBS' "Made in Jersey" or NBC's "Do No Harm"; both ended after only two airings, according to the website TV By the Numbers.