What Happens When Your New Show is in Trouble?

Brothers-From-Another-Mother Dept: The ever-popular, ever-funny, ever-wise Ken Levine explains to newbies the hard truth that our Beloved Leader, LB himself (who doesn’t know Ken, nor does Ken know him), has learned all too well over the years:

Soon to be late and, possibly, lamented. Too bad. We liked this one.

by Ken Levine

We’re at the time of year when networks are beginning to cancel new shows. No matter how successful you are, at one time or another you will find yourself in this position. My heart goes out to all of you showrunners currently going through this.

I don’t mean to discourage anybody, and when new shows go well then life is golden.  But for people going through a struggling newcomer, or anyone who wants a look behind the curtain of how high-stakes television really works, here’s what it’s like:

Everything was so great at the start. You flew to New York for the upfronts. Lavish parties, the network president lauding your show as the next huge hit. Drinks with your stars. A total lovefest.

Then you went to work. That network that praised you to the heavens now questions every decision you make. Story notions are thrown out. Outlines are rejected. First drafts are met with voluminous notes. One of the stars you had drinks with you now have to fire because she didn’t test to the network’s liking.

Production begins and the notes increase. Network approval now extends to all casting and editing decisions.

You start falling behind. You realize you wasted several weeks of pre-production preparing an outline that ultimately got rejected. You wasted more time just waiting to hear back on stories and scripts you sent them.

But everybody on the cast and crew is still relatively happy. Everyone likes everyone else. It’s exciting. Hope burns eternal that indeed this will become the next big thing. And everyone has steady employment (at least for the moment). On-air promos have begun. Ads appear in magazines. One of your cast members goes on Conan. It’s all good.

Then the reviews come out. You focus on the good ones, but the cast focuses on the bad ones. You now have shaky actors you have to talk off the ledge.

Meanwhile, the network gets instantly nervous and decides the direction of the show is the problem. So they begin rejecting scripts that had already been approved. Now you’re really scrambling – trying to make a midcourse correction based on a consensus of executives.

The show premiers. The ratings are disappointing. You look for any positive sign. It finished in only 3rd place in Houston. The DVR numbers will surely propel you to the top 10. But those numbers are underwhelming too. The cast is understandably panicked. You spend a lot of time on the stage putting out fires. But it’s time you can ill afford because you’re practically starting from scratch on scripts. All lead time has evaporated – most of it spent futilely on scripts that are scrapped. You’re working around the clock, seven days a week. You haven’t had a day off since August. You haven’t eaten a decent meal since July. You haven’t had a good night’s sleep since June.

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