Was Network TV’s wave of layoffs necessary?

It felt like a TV bloodbath like no other. Thursday’s rapid succession of primetime scoops knocked out “Magnum PI” and two chuck lorre comedies on CBS; Ted Danson’s “Mr. Mayor” and Kenan Thompson’s “Kenan” and freshman drama “The Endgame” on NBC; and much of the lineup—including “Legacies,” “Charmed,” “Dynasty,” and “Roswell, New Mexico”—on The CW.

And that’s not even the entire list of this week’s canceled shows. But that day of death—which Legacies, Roswell and The Endgame executive producer Julie Plec likened to the Game of Thrones massacre known as the “Red Wedding”—was really nothing new. Previously, the week leading up to the upfronts was always awkward as shows were jettisoned to make room for the newcomers. The cycle of broadcast life, etc., etc.

But it’s been an unusual two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The traditional upfront payments have been jettisoned and planning thrown off balance by production starts and stops. Shows that may have been canceled weren’t as networks held on to what they had to to keep the pipeline going during these uncertain times.

All of that just smothered the upcoming primetime billing — and honestly still hasn’t fully happened. Think of this as a transitional year as the dust settles on corporate mergers, acquisitions and realignments.

For virtually every conglomerate, a streaming-first strategy has seen home productions further cemented as a means of controlling the lucrative long tail of content. At CBS, CEO George Cheeks and his team are looking for more shows like “Ghosts”: An in-house hit that can be exploited on Paramount+. What the Eye network doesn’t need are mid-size sitcoms from Warner Bros. TV — even from esteemed hitmaker Lorre. Previously, the idea that CBS would cancel two Lorre shows in the same year would have been heresy. That year, both “B Positive” and “United States of Al” had to go.

The CW housecleaning comes naturally as corporate parents Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount prepare to sell the network to broadcasting giant Nexstar. The CW’s usefulness as a launch pad for shows from both companies’ respective studios may be coming to an end. After all, Warner Bros. TV and CBS Studios now have infinite space on HBO Max and Paramount+, respectively, to park their wares.

When The WB and UPN merged to form The CW in 2006, it was out of financial necessity: there was no point in running two loss-making netlets at the same time. (And the decision to merge smartly came more than two years before the 2008 economic downturn.) The CW was a convenient way for Warner Bros. and CBS to cultivate franchises, which could then be sold to international buyers and streamers for a profit . A major output deal with Netflix for access to CW shows (several months after the end of each linear season) helped CW’s rebirth as a genre-focused platform over the past decade.

But The CW is out of the Netflix business as Warner Bros. and CBS now broadcast all of their network shows to their own streamers. And that has led to a course correction for the network, which has boasted more scripted originals than some of its larger competitors in recent years. In the long term, Nexstar is expected to steer The CW toward lower-cost originals such as Canadian acquisitions (of which it already has several) and non-scripted fares. But for now, despite this year’s mass losses, the network can still boast a steady roster of hits like “The Flash,” “All American,” “Riverdale,” and “Walker” — and newcomers like “Supernatural” spinoff “The Winchesters.” . .”

In a perverse way, this year’s need for bloodletting got us talking about the transfer this week, which I think is a good thing. (Hey, the broadcasters are still here, and people are really upset that the shows they still watch in prime time are being canceled!)

But does it have to go on like this? Even though the Upfront presentations return next week, it’s not just about the network anymore. (Well, except for The CW, but we’ve already discussed their unique situation this year.) The fall lineup that was once the centerpiece of these events is now an afterthought. It’s time to think about how to stagger cancellations and pickups instead of throwing them all away at once like it’s 1995 again.

There’s also the unfortunate “broadcasting is dead” narrative whenever the stations clean the house this way, although we know that’s not entirely true. (Well, not yet, at least.) Perhaps the return of Network Upfronts next week will reinforce the narrative that shows like ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” and CBS’s “Ghosts” just when you thought television couldn’t break comedy, younger are bringing viewers back into the herd, while procedural advocates like Dick Wolf’s three-tier franchises (“Law & Order,” “One Chicago,” and “FBI”) are doing the same on two competing networks.

But there’s also a chance that the previews, in their rush to herald the streaming future, may continue to downplay the networks that got them there. What a pity. In a year when television has had some genuinely positive stories to tell, it doesn’t take “red wedding” moments with cancellations to dampen the good news television still has to share.

https://variety.com/2022/tv/columns/tv-cancellations-red-wedding-julie-plec-1235266569/ Was Network TV’s wave of layoffs necessary?

Charles Jones

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