Tuesday 21 March 2023

13th Anniversary Blog Post

The Death Of Television

Okay, so for my 13th Anniversary Blog Post, I thought I’d take a quick look at the current state of TV shows because, frankly, it is in a bad way and I think the format as we know it is going to need to have some adjustments made and reinvent itself before long... is my best guess.

Okay, so a couple of things have happened lately in the world of streaming TV channels. One thing is that one of the companies, I think it might be Warners, have taken down a huge chunk of their old TV shows (most of them is my understanding) because they don’t want to keep having to pay the creators royalties on the product any longer. And, yes, Warner Brothers have always been a studio that’s known for being... well... cheapskates but, I think there may be some consequences to these actions down the line and I will discuss this in a little while.

Firstly though, I want to discuss the constant cancellations of TV shows by companies like Netflix, forcing their customers to have to abandon the shows they’re watching without knowing how things turned out for the characters they’ve spent months... and sometimes years... following.

Okay... let’s backtrack to the 20th Century for a little while and recognise that, yes, TV shows have always been cancelled some time long before the creative teams, cast and crew would have preferred them to end. And, of course, when many of the people still watching those shows would much rather they could continue to be watched. In the old days, it was unusual for a series to have a definitive ending episode (although there were some, like the much publicised final episode of M*A*S*H). But one difference was that there was no internet or other places you could get relevant information about your shows in those days.  I remember waiting ages for a second series of Tales Of The Gold Monkey to hit our screens.... eventually figuring out after a few years it was never coming back.

But the other important thing to remember was that, unlike most TV shows today, it was rare that a very overt, underlying story arc was threaded through a show. Most shows on episodic television consisted of stand alone single or two episode stories and so, if a show was cancelled, there would be no “what happens next?” questions in the minds of the viewers. Again, there were exceptions. The Prisoner in the late sixties, for example, was only 17 episodes long and it was cancelled. However, because the producers knew it was going to be cancelled, it allowed for Patrick McGoohan (the show’s star, producer and sometimes writer/director under a pseudonym) to write two episodes... Once Upon A Time and Fall Out, that finished off the story for the audience. Admittedly, some people were not happy with the final episode although, I thought it was a brilliant wrap up to a startling series myself... but whether you liked it or not, it had a definitive conclusion of sorts.

Sometimes, though, by the 1990s when shows did start to have underlying story arcs seeded into certain episodes, this could also backfire. Such was the case of Millennium, the sister series to Chris Carter’s The X Files and set in the same universe. By the end of Season 2 the show’s creative team realised that they were about to be cancelled, so they wrote an ending where most of the regular characters were killed and the world as we know it was wiped out by a virus, with only a few people left alive. The End...

The End... that is until the studio changed their minds and said they weren’t cancelled after all... could they have another series, please? And so Season 3 of the show is... a bit of a mess. The world ‘didn’t end after all’ and new characters had to be brought in to make up for the absence of many of the regular characters from the previous two seasons of the show. And, of course, surprise surprise, the show then got cancelled at the end of Season 3, when it hadn’t tied up it’s story arc this time. Chris Carter had to put a follow up episode, to make some sense of the mess, as a crossover story in the next season of The X Files.

Anyway, lets hop back to the present then and realise that, more than at any other time in history, shows are cancelled without notice to the creators and pretty much everything on TV these days has a continuing story arc, which is what keeps people watching. And a lot of these shows, due to drops in subscription levels etc, are being cancelled willy nilly, leaving the remaining audience in the cold. I watched a couple of episodes of a new show called 1899 just before Christmas... and then got caught up in various manifestations of seasonal shenanigans. By the time I came back to it in late January/early February it had already been announced that the show, much to the disappointment of the cast and crew, not to mention its audience, had been one of a number of cancellations. I asked Lee at the ticket office in Enfield Town train station, my local station, who had seen the whole show (and loved it) and, well, even he said to not bother to watch the rest (I did though). If they’re cancelling it then what’s the point in watching, was his mindset and I think that’s probably a sensible suggestion at present.

And that’s going to be a problem for Netflix and other channels I think. I’m now seeing similar sentiments echoed both by various people I know in real life and on social media. People have been bitten by this phenomenon too often and I know a lot of people won’t watch a TV show now until it’s finished its entire run... because they don’t want to invest any time in something which is going to be cancelled before they find out the end of the story.

What with the onus on the customers to buy subscriptions to the channels, with all the other financial drains going on in he world these days... Netflix and many others are losing bucketloads of subscribers and... guess what? If you cancel the show then people are not only going to not watch the one which they were only halfway through, they’ll more than likely ditch the channel itself because, you know... what’s the point?

Okay, so back to that other thing... Warners or some such studio dumping all their stuff to save on royalties. But... yeah, you know... people want to either watch this stuff for their first time around (probably the same ones who were adding a programme to their list of shows that have naturally finished and so are safe to watch) and, if they want to rewatch their favourite shows a second time... they now can’t. So, it boggles the mind that the companies indulging in this short sighted practice are not realising this is going to lose them huge amounts of subscribers. And don’t forget, many of these shows are channel exclusives and many don’t have physical releases to fall back on. When they’re gone, they’re gone. And with that kind of mentality, coupled with the constant cancellations... what creative team is going to want to trust the studio again by starting up a new show for them?

One last thing... the pirates definitely win. Films and TV shows go live in high definition to watch for free on many sites on the world wide web, pretty much the day they hit digital anywhere in the world or, in some cases, way before then (not to mention hold backs on release patterns which mean a country who doesn’t have that show or movie yet can watch it way before they’re ‘supposed to’ on the web).  And, you know, something tells me these hosting websites keep all of their old shows and movies so their customers, their hats pulled low and lurking in the shadows, don’t have the worries of a channel deleting their favourite series. They’re there until the government blocks access and closes them down... which means it’ll be a good few hours before the same site is being hosted somewhere else with all the back catalogue fully intact (from what I can make out... a little bird told me).

So, in conclusion, something the various companies might want to think about is a) not cancelling shows before they’ve finished their run and b) don’t delete them from your servers so your customers, who are paying large amounts of money, can still access their favourite shows. Something the creatives might like to think about.... although it flies in the face of why people have become so addicted to TV serials again (just like the old theatrical serials of the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s had a power over their audience)... is that it may be better not to introduce a binding story arc to these things and just have the regular characters taking part in stand alone stories again. Honestly guys and gals, this can be done in a way that people would still watch, I’m sure.

Anyway, that’s my thought on the current state of TV and thank you for reading my 13th anniversary post. Normal service will be resumed very soon. Do not adjust your TV set.

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