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Monday, October 17, 2011

NBC Ahead Of Pack With Short Series Orders

There was a time when many entertainment insiders considered BBC the "it" network when it came to series orders and programming decisions.  Establishing their own convention in a world where "new" is frightening and scary, many of their recent series' are limited to 6-8 episodes per season (assuming there is even a second season in the minds of the creators), further cementing a great disparity between themselves and virtually every American TV network.  This worked two-fold for the British outfit: first and foremost, seasons were short enough that audiences could easily catch every episode without feeling out of the loop; and secondly, it created a great word-of-mouth buzz, as non-viewers had a whole year to play catch up if they missed it the first time around (and conversely, BBC had an extra 46 weeks to rerun episodes from that season).

Now, however, it seems that America is finally taking a cue (or is it queue?) from our mother nation.  The frontrunner, NBC, has made the BBC's mantra their own in recent years creating several shows that complete their season (and many times series) run in 6 episodes- or less!  And though this marketing tactic was never explained to American viewers (who often wonder after just 6 episodes where their favorite new show has gone), NBC forges ahead developing a dozen plus shows every year and then BBC-ing their order without a moment's notice.

100 Questions, The Cape, Kings, Trauma, The Listener...the list goes on and on.  And yet, many of these shows were just getting their legs when they got BBC'd.  Taking this mini-series mind set a step further, NBC has ended the first season of The Playboy Club and Free Agents after just 3 episodes.  The internet is already ablaze with speculation about the fate of the melodrama.  What will happen in season 2?  Will we meet the whole cast finally?  Will the story make any sense at all ever?  And what about that dead guy in the stockroom that the bunny killed, huh?  Talk about a cliff hanger!  We need some closure!  Season 2 can't come soon enough!

Die hard TV fans recognize that many of these short season shows were just too good to bring back making their one "season" their first and last.  It's a tough decision to make at the network level, but when faced with a tough decision, most execs would do the same: preserve the show's integrity by ending it early instead of trying to do 8 episodes in a year and watching the story suffer.  And though NBC isn't the only network faced with these life or death situations each year, they certainly have had an edge.  And until today nobody ever knew exactly why.  Now, with NBC permanently shifting to a 3-episodes-per-season/series for virtually all of their shows, the facts are finally starting to trickle out.

Take The Jake Effect, for example.  In 2003, NBC shot six episodes of this series starring Jason Bateman, Kyle Gass, an Greg Grunberg, but decided it was just too good to ever air.  "Audiences weren't and still aren't ready for this show.  The chemistry was too perfect, the stories too gripping.  It would be irresponsible to air this show given the fragile state of the world today," said one NBC exec who agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity.  So they shelved the show permanently creating a mysticism about the project that is unparalleled by any other TV show in the history of the medium.  And though there are still some ways to watch bits and pieces of the series online, you can bet the show will never actually be aired, as NBC wouldn't want to risk losing the allure of what could have been, a trend they seem to be sticking to.

So what comes next for this network and television in general?  If we're lucky series orders will be shortened to 1 episode, max.  Ratings will become irrelevant (sorry, even more irrelevant), your DVR will malfunction as you try to set season passes on what they consider to be M.O.W.'s, and dedicated viewers like you folks out there will just have to keep up or quit trying. 

Welcome to the new golden age of TV!