Are streaming networks a safety net?

Rana Attia examines how different platforms choose to cancel TV shows

Whether it is a thriller like Daredevil or a sitcom like Fuller House, Netflix has developed its own set of original programs and spin-offs. These shows don’t rely on viewer ratings because the only people that watch them are the ones who subscribe to Netflix, which means that it’s more difficult for shows to be cancelled. This brings up the notion that one of the reasons Netflix has begun to dominate television today is that shows stand a better chance at surviving, rather than facing cancellation, when ratings fall.

For instance, there has been a lot of controversy over the Netflix original series, Fuller House. Is it great because it’s a spin off of Full House, set in the family’s original home, or is it just awkward and clichéd due to the resurrection of the same old catchphrases like “how rude?" Despite the negative reviews from critics, Netflix is still creating new episodes, and a study by Symphony Advanced Media showed that Fuller House is currently one of the most popular shows on TV.

On the other hand, network channels such as ABC rely heavily on ratings. Even when a show has a strong plot or excellent actors, the network cares more about who is watching. Although actress Courteney Cox starred in the sitcom Cougar Town when it was on ABC up until season three in 2012, ABC wanted to cancel it due to a decline in ratings. Instead, TBS renewed the show for three more seasons, and its ratings on its new network were higher than the show that replaced it on ABC, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23.

The biggest problem in network television is that companies do not give shows the chance to develop their stories further, which is why when faced with cancellation, some shows will move to cable channels or streaming services because of their leniency with ratings. The essence of ‘ratings’ has not changed, it just depends on the channel and budget.

How can you choose shows to watch that will last? First of all, always know the channel. For instance, ABC and Freeform are on my blacklist based on my experience with shows getting canned early. Do not think that just because Grey’s Anatomy has been on the air for almost 13 years that ABC will let any drama or soap run as long as that, even it if is somewhat tolerable.

Other than the channel, be aware of the genre. For example, the show Whispers aired on ABC, focusing on an imaginary friend who led kids to commit dangerous acts. The genre was sci-fi, and the plot was just over the top. The ‘alien’ would drive kids to murder their family and do other crazy stuff, and that was just in the first two episodes. If you think the plot line is really extreme for the genre, other viewers will probably think that, too. This can lead to bad ratings and ultimately to the show's cancellation, which is exactly what happened to Whispers, which was cancelled after one season. 

Of course, the foolproof solution would be to only watch online programming like Netflix and Hulu, which are much more likely to keep shows on the air and reboot shows dropped by the major networks. For instance, after The Mindy Project was cancelled by Fox after three seasons, Hulu ‘adopted’ the show so it could continue its run.

I recommend streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu because they produce original shows and extend the runs of great shows dropped by major cable channels and networks. Online programming is a “safety net” in terms of entertainment. Make sure that the next time you watch a preview for a show and add it to your watch list, you ask yourself: does this have the potential to get cancelled soon?

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