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Why Was Beautiful Life Cancelled, and is Brothers Next?

September 30th, 2009 | Jonathan Gray

A brief pause from reviews to discuss the passing of Beautiful Life, and the low ratings of Brothers. Both cases illustrate how much the extratextuals matter. After the fold …

First, Beautiful Life. Though it’s being received by some as sour grapes from the star of a bad show, Ashley Medekwe’s blog complained of the following (with thanks to New to TV for the link):

I think all of us (and I’m talking about everyone- not just cast) are sad that something we invested our time, effort and talent into was thrown away so abruptly by the network but the reality is the ratings were VERY low. Nobody knew this show was even on. The advertising campaign for TBL was small to non existent.

We were the last pick up of the season and that’s just the way it goes sometimes. The CW had Melrose Place and Vampire Diaries and had already allocated the publicity budget to those shows. We were on after Top Model and we had the draw of Mischa. They never had any plans to advertise us. I guess we were an experiment to see if ratings can fall out of the air…… um, they cant.

Okay, first off, based on what I saw I’m not ready to defend the show. But I agree with her in blaming the hype, or lack thereof. After all, let’s be clear about something: if a show is cancelled after one or two episodes, it cannot be because it’s bad (even if it is bad); it can only be because the ads were bad or insufficient. Its cancellation is a sign of poor marketing. It’s a massive fallacy of stat analysis in film and TV that poor opening numbers equate to a poor product. If, as with TBL, only one million people tune in to see a show, we’d be foolish to think that all the others didn’t because they know it’s bad. How do they know? They haven’t seen it, and let’s not flatter the TV critics too much to suggest that all of America is waiting to hear what they think, so as much as reviews matter, they can’t be the all and end all. Rather, viewers who aren’t watching haven’t been given a good reason to do so, and/or have been given reasons not to do so. At this early point in a show’s life, they’re responding to the advertising.

Admittedly, a really bad film or TV show will make the trailer or preview maker’s job all the harder, and I don’t mean to suggest that all shows should open with good numbers. And maybe we could be kind to CW and say they’d seen further episodes and knew how truly horrific the show was becoming, hence the early cancellation. But if we’re analyzing the stats, Medekwe’s right.

Which brings us to Brothers, which also experienced rather anemic ratings, especially for FOX. Last Friday, it received 2.82 million viewers with an 18-49 demo ratings/share of 1.0/4. When it replayed on Sunday, it received 3.73 million viewers with a 1.7/5 in the demo. When you consider that first week hits Flash Forward, Modern Family, and Cougar Town all enjoyed solid yet still much lower numbers for their replays, Brothers’ ability to garner better ratings in the second week is impressive. But it also tells me simply that the show had insufficient advertising and/or a crappy timeslot. FOX hurt its chances, in other words. When given a better slot, and perhaps the benefit of some word of mouth, Brothers did better on Sunday. Once more, so much is about the extratextuals – hype and timeslot.

A month from now, I’ll feel better evaluating shows’ life or death based on ratings. And it does give me faith in the human race to see that Melrose Place is getting shamefully low ratings despite an ad blitz. For now, though, and after only 1-3 eps., if a show’s ratings are poor, we really have to blame the nets for doing a bad job at advertising them, and/or at placing them. An ad campaign may capture a show’s essence perfectly (as did MP‘s with its trashy feel), but it’s still the ad campaign that’s being reacted to more than the show itself at such an early date.

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  1. October 3rd, 2009 at 15:09 | #1

    I’ll offer some skepticism on the claim that a quick death must be due to bad ads/campaign. Perhaps bad ratings can be attributed to the campaign (although the ratings differences at this level are all within Nielsen’s margin of error!), but even then the concept, cast, and execution need to be able to hook viewers (and of course network execs know that when they approve shows). But remember that when a network cancels a show after only 1-3 eps, they’ve seen the next few in rough cut or script form, have a better sense of the creative potential of the producers, and should at least have an inkling of whether the show will grow into its skin or will continue to flail. Certainly shows that start slow but are given a chance to grow are offered the opportunity because the execs see the potential for a hit. And some shows come to the air with little chance to succeed – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was greenlit to fulfill some contract with Kutcher, not because they believed it would really take flight.

    One question I have is about the industrial back-end of the show – according to IMDB, TBL was produced by Paramount, owned by The CW co-owner CBS. With the unusual co-ownership of CW, how much does the licensing fee & back-end revenue being semi-internal to the company matter? Seems like it should have favored the show’s chances…

  2. October 3rd, 2009 at 19:15 | #2

    All good points, Jason, and thanks for making them. I guess my point is simply that at this point in the year, ratings are more accurately measuring how well a show was sold than they are measuring how much an audience likes the actual show. Granted, the network might have seen more episodes, and might have all sorts of other reasons for canceling it. But it’s such an odd business when they don’t get all that crap sorted out before they screen something — one would like to believe that once it’s on television, they actually have enough faith in it to give it a chance. Two episodes isn’t much of a chance at all.

  3. Mike H
    October 7th, 2009 at 14:57 | #3

    Personally I like the show and found it instantly addictive. Broadcasting a mere two episodes doesn’t allow for much of a following to develop. This stillborn attempt at premiering the show should’ve waited until the network was willing to devote the necessary advertising dollars. It doesn’t matter how good a show is if nobody knows it’s on.

  4. Liz
    October 7th, 2009 at 18:15 | #4

    just saying i thought TBL was much better then Melrose is. i am kinda of sad because i was looking forward to watching it and getting more into it. i agree with two episodes not being a chance. It really isnt at all they need time for people to get into the show.

  5. Jonathan Gray
    October 7th, 2009 at 22:00 | #5

    I wasn’t wild about it, but I’d definitely agree that MP is way worse, and that it deserved more of a chance

  6. thalia
    October 14th, 2009 at 21:24 | #6

    i want the show back i loved it and couldnt get enough of it i agree that it was so much better than melrose place.

  7. YALITZA
    October 16th, 2009 at 12:59 | #7

    OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE IT WAS CANCELLED IT WAS A GOOD SHOW!.. I THINK IT DESERVED MORE TIME ON THE AIR!

  8. YALITZA
    October 16th, 2009 at 13:03 | #8

    OH BTW IT IS DEFF A BETTER CONCEPT THEN MP..

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