Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reminder: TV is a business.

Look, none of what I'm going to say here is new. I've probably said most of it before, and other people have definitely said all of it before. It's mostly just common sense. But in the past few weeks of finales and announcements and upfronts, I've seen a few of the same issues cropping up over and over, and they seem to stem from people forgetting that TV is a business and, at heart, operates like one, for better or worse.

1. Networks make decisions for business reasons. Really. Whatever decision you're questioning - why a network cancelled a show or picked up a show or moved a show or whatever - odds are, it comes down to "They didn't think their current arrangement was making enough money" and/or "They thought they could make more money by changing things." Talking about "fairness" or "justice" in what's put on the air is nonsensical. TV stations are not charities dedicated to serving Art or The Common Good or anything. Don't ask if it's fair that Awake was cancelled while Whitney was renewed, because that doesn't mean anything. I doubt anyone's saying "Let's get rid of good or complex shows just to be mean." Like every single other business out there, networks have a perfectly reasonable bias toward whatever will make them money. At the same time, though, "business reasons" does not exactly track to "ratings." Ratings (and especially ratings among certain demographics) affect what advertisers will pay for ads during a timeslot, and, for one thing, a show that's cheaper to make can get away with lower ratings and therefore lower ad revenue. It's just math. And the network's looking at the whole picture, so you can't judge things in a vacuum - factors like whether a show is on brand, whether the network thinks it helps its image, whether it pairs well with another show or launches new shows well, whether the network wants to stay in business with certain creators, etc. all affect whether a show is good for the network's overall bottom line. So to those saying that their favorite show was cancelled due to some conspiracy or personal vendetta - sure, it's possible, but it's more likely that the network just decided it would make more money showing something else.

2. You have no intrinsic right to access TV. Really. It's a commodity to be purchased, through cable service, watching ads, other subscription services, buying DVDs, whatever. That's how businesses work. You do not have the right to pirate stuff because you don't want to subscribe to HBO or because a show doesn't air where you live. Piracy is theft. Stealing because you feel entitled to whatever content you want for free does not make you a hero. You're perfectly free to think HBO's business model is dumb, say, but that does not make stealing Game of Thrones any less illegal. And you really have no right to complain about good shows getting cancelled if you're stealing them instead of actually supporting them to begin with.

3. No show or writer owes you anything. Writers have no obligation to pay any attention to fans' requests. Writers certainly have no obligation to be "fair" to factions within their fan bases by giving characters or relationships equal screentime or anything like that. Writers also have no obligation to make their stories "good" - either morally or qualitatively, now that I think about it. And really, it's their work. You have no say. Your agency begins and ends at deciding whether to consume a product. If you don't like what's happening on a show, don't send nasty messages to the writers. Just stop watching. (TV is supposed to be fun!) And if you feel a show is breaking your personal moral code, then by all means, stop giving it your time and money! We all make decisions about which commercial entities to support every day. Make this one of those decisions. But don't claim that, say, the writers of Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries have some sort of obligation to model healthy relationships to young girls. They are telling their story and producing their product. It's up to you to decide whether you want to buy the product. If enough people disagree with a show's direction and stop consuming the product, the show will fail. This is how businesses work. TV is not a democracy.

So take a deep breath. Try not to take things personally. Try to remember that all those names you read - writers, producers, executives, everyone - are people trying to do their jobs and keep their jobs. And try to remember that these businesses need to succeed in order for any of the shows you like to stay on the air at all.


  1. Thanks for this post, which really is a much needed reminder in the season of HOW DARE YOU DO THAT TO MY SHOW!

    I also view television shows as a product that I pay for (with money or watching commercials), which is why it's hard for me to entirely accept that as a consumer I am not entitled to a quality product. If I eat a bad meal at a restaurant, I tell the chef. If my new Thingamabob breaks after one use, I write the manufacturer.

    I know when I critique a show, my intent is less "yer doing it wrong!" and more "I so, so want to love this, and I think you could do better."

    You are right, we ultimately have no say except to stop watching. If poor-quality shows stop making money, they will go off the air. But if we don't say *why* we stopped watching, those shows might be replaced with equally badly written shows, just starring prettier people or set in more exotic locales. By all means vote with the remote, but I don't think there is anything wrong with saying why you've chosen to flip the channel.

    1. Thanks for your comment. To clarify, I am not saying there is anything wrong with criticism, obviously! Saying "I don't want to watch because ____" is great. Saying "Writer Y owed me ABC and since something else happened I hope her dog dies" is not great.

  2. That is just patently ridiculous. Clearly TPTB cancel shows only to mess with me and take the shows they renew on tangents that they know will infuriate me.

    And yes, I'm kidding. But I still reserve the right to shout & threaten my TV.

  3. Perfect-just what we were saying this weekend.