3 Qualities That Get TV Shows Canceled

Television and remote control

Television and remote control | Source: Thinkstock

At certain points in the year, anyone that’s been watching a new show with enjoyment knows to prepare for cancelation. This is assuming the series is not one of those classics that’s been on air for sixteen years — though even those can surprise you at times. Cancelation is a constant risk for most shows, particularly those that are new, but sometimes its a risk that follows a series into its fourth or fifth season.

Some shows are canceled before they truly deserve to be cut out, leading either to a rescue from fans as was seen with Arrested Development and Futurama, or years and years of bitterness, as we see in the case of Firefly. Other shows fall into some predictable pitfalls that often lead to cancelation, and those are the shows it’s sometimes hard to feel sorry to see go. Ratings are a huge part of , but what determines ratings are far more complex and have to do with everything from time slots to writing. These pitfalls are fairly predictable, which makes it all the more deserved when a show falls off a network.

One problem new shows fall into that fails about half the time is when it tries to emulate a show that’s far better than itself, pretty much guaranteeing an audience won’t be gained. If the show manages to do a fair job of reproducing what the fans loved about the other popular show, while still maintaining a certain degree of originality, it can snatch up fans who are looking for something similar — particularly if the two shows are scheduled on different days or different times. Sometimes this tactic also helps draw an initial audience, and then as the series’ position becomes more embedded and stable the writers have the opportunity to take more risks and add new material that might not have been part of the initial draw.

Of course, this is risky as well, since often that new material overwhelms what was working and loses its old audience a few episodes into the second season. This is another major problem shows have that lead them to be canceled — throwing a stylistic or plot change in the show when the viewers aren’t prepared for it, where the change fundamentally shifts directions as a result. Loyalty only goes so far, and early in a show’s creation loyalty doesn’t run terribly deep.

Arrested Development | Netflix

Arrested Development | Netflix

Sometimes this change isn’t intentional, for example when there needs to be a cast change early on, so a character death or removal is organized. However adding a new character can sometimes be equally problematic, as was seen recently with the show Elementary, which, while not canceled, had mixed responses to the cast change-up.

Another ingredient in this recipe for disaster is a change not in actors, but in writers. Some shows depend heavily on certain voices to create the content. There is usually a crowd of writers for any major show, but the loss of key players can be extremely costly to a show, and lead to unexpected and unpleasant changes for viewers. It’s also a possible sign that the show wasn’t going so well to begin with if a writer bails, particularly a well known writer.

Finally, a real show killer is simply bad writing in general, regardless of who is doing it, when it’s combined with a low budget. A show can have mediocre writing and killer visual presentation and do OK, and it can have no funding whatsoever but great writing — as was the case with Always Sunny In Philadelphia — but it can’t have both bad writing and no funding.

When that happens, there’s nothing to distract one from the other. With decent visual effects, bad writing can be concealed for a time by impressive explosions, or cool science fiction CGI, or simply by beautifully put together shots and a lovely setting. Eventually the audience will know something is missing, but at least for a while it’s possible to get away with it. But if the bad writing is right on the surface of each episode, without what equates to television-script-make-up, the series has no future — as we see with shows like Bad Judge.

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