Usually by this point in the Fall Television season the networks will start making some hard choices and obvious decisions. These generally come in the form of a series getting a full season order of episodes or, in many cases, a cancellation. While a few shows have received the former, something odd is happening when it comes to the latter.
As of yet, no show has been cancelled, at least not in the traditional sense. What’s being done instead is that some series received a reduced episode count. Generally, all network shows are giving an initial order of 13 episodes. If the show does well, the network will give an order for an additional nine episodes (a full season order) and that usually reflects confidence in the ratings thus far and is a good indication in the long-term prospects of the program. Conversely, if the performance is poor, a show can be outright cancelled with production immediately halted. In this last case the network may choose to let any remaining completed episodes air, burn them off in a different time period or, more likely, simply choose not to air them.
A reduced episode count can be seen as a network viewing a show as a lost cause or even as an unstated cancellation, but there might just be more going on. More and more, series that are cancelled on a network relying on a sizeable ratings draw have been finding a new life on a smaller channel or streaming service that is very pleased with the size of the core audience. This could be reason enough to try to bring more eyes to a struggling series while not investing too much production dollars. A new timeslot might do the trick or replaying the entire shortened season as an event later might give it a boost.
There is also a huge change in viewing habits to take into consideration. For any of you reading this I would guess that there are very few TV shows you watch when they originally air. In the era of DVRs and on-demand viewing, it is highly likely that a show with abysmal live viewing figures could wind up with respectable numbers once it’s taken into account everyone who watched over several days. If there is even a chance of a possible return on investment for episodes already produced with the possibility of a slow rising hit, it’s not unreasonable that networks would be willing to hold out judgment a little longer than usual.
There are quite rumblings that we are treading into unprecedented territory with no cancellations yet. Indeed, this has never been done before, in accordance with the definition of unprecedented. With CBS re-launching Star Trek exclusively on its streaming service in 2017 and NBC considering a similar service, plus HBO and Showtime also offering non-cable subscription apps, it’s clear the business model is beginning to shift. It is probably too soon to call this the end of an era, and there is more likely to be an increasing transition than a clear line in the sand that is crossed, but it is safe to say that television is evolving and will never be the same again. For too long viewer demands of being able to consume how and when they want have fallen on deaf ears. It would appear now that everyone is starting to listen.