Unfortunately as this May Sweeps season winds down, the networks have announced the cancellations of some very fine programs that certainly will be missed by many viewers. However, it is likely the recession and money issues that are driving many of these cancellations rather than mere ratings this year. Here are some of the biggest announced network cancellations.
CBS: WITHOUT A TRACE: CBS was the only network to actually increase viewers this past year, yet like the other networks, cost cutting had some impact on the CBS schedule. The biggest victim of this was the top 20 drama, WITHOUT A TRACE which sometimes posted as high as #11 on the Nielsen charts this past year. With a drama packed schedule, and only one slot left for the Fall schedule, CBS opted to keep the cheaper to produce drama NUMB3RS. It is simply amazing how a top rated hit program can be axed simply because of cost, but that appears to be exactly what happened here. The show certainly had a lot more life in it and could have played on for a few more seasons. The finale wasn't really clear whether it was setting up a cliffhanger involving the character played by Poppy Montgomery or not, but she appeared to be moving on, possiby creating a slot for another character to move in. If another network could afford the production costs of this program. It is not entirely clear just how much this Jerry Bruckheimer series costs per episode, but TNT had to pay $1.3 million per episode just to air reruns of this very great drama. Ratings may have fallen a little over the years, yet any program in the top 20 still has plenty of life it in. Perhaps this is the biggest loss of program this year.
THE UNIT: This another huge loss to the Fall CBS schedule. This excellent military drama features some cloak-and-dagger James Bond-type missions by a special covert forces unit of the American military. For a relatively tight budget, this great program managed to appear as though it was filmed all over the world, even though it was of course filmed on sets. Dennis Haysbert is an excellent actor as the lead military officer in a role of this military unit similar to Delta Forces. The producers of the show hope to keep the series alive as a syndicated series if it can sell the series to some buyers. Let's all hope they can. This show is to good to die off. There are plenty of good missions still left for this military unit.
WORST WEEK: While this comedy wasn't great by any standard, it was indeed a very funny series of mishaps by a groom of a couple leading up to their marriage, that kept managing to build. It had some very funny moments. But once the episode with the marriage took place, it seemed like a sort of series finale and the series really had nowhere to go. So it was like a limited series program, but great fun while it lasted. RIP.
HARPERS ISLAND: CBS had higher hopes that this limited series would be a ratings success, however it became a quick ratings failure and was quickly dirt-canned over to that Saturday night dumping ground slot for failed programs. The program was basically like a serialized teen slasher horror movie, and was actually very good. Each week two characters met a horrible death at the hands of a mystery killer. Great ghoulish fun for horror movie fans. Probably would have done much better as a couple of slasher horror films instead of a TV series.
ELEVENTH HOUR: This was a pretty good medical science fiction drama. It had some pretty fair story lines. CBS even had it air after the coveted Thursday night CSI slot, which was a pretty good sign of faith in the series. The pilot cost $4 million to produce, as it was another expensive Jerry Bruckheimer production. But probably cost might have been a pretty big factor in CBS limiting the series to just 18 episodes before giving the program the ax. Too bad.
NBC: MY NAME IS EARL: Compared to some many comedy programs like THE OFFICE or PARKS AND RECREATION which are only marginally funny, MY NAME IS EARL was a real gem. It was a larger than life and lampoonish show with plenty of very goofy characters and story lines. It was a very good comedy. It is possible that the show just might live on with a deal can be made with either ABC or FOX or possiby with TBS. Perhaps this show might still survive. It certainly deserves to. EARL was also likely a victim of the new economics of the networks that orders as few as 13 episodes of a show at a less than production cost price, and urges that production company to seek outside income from DVD sales and syndication deals, promising a potentially larger deal for 20 episodes later, but then cancels the deal when the time comes. EARL was likely more a victim of this sort of new network economic more than anything related to actual ratings.
DEAL OR NO DEAL: This primetime TV gameshow was once a ratings smash hit, however like all TV gameshows like WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE well proved, these primetime TV gameshows are big hits for a while, then really fall off in the ratings. The show will continue in a syndicated version and will now shot in Connecticut due to a 30% tax cut incentive. Currently the program is filmed in Culver City, California, and is cheap enough to produce because few big cash prizes have ever had to paid out so far.
ABC: ACCORDING TO JIM: This really funny comedy might have grown old with ABC network viewers, yet should still have a few years life left in syndication rights and in possible DVD sales. On June 2, 2009 ABC will actually air the series finale, although the show actually shut down production by December 2008 and the sets were reportedly destroyed. The beautiful, but smart mouthed character played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley will be missed though, as she left the program early into season eight. Maybe this series had a good long life. But it will still be missed by many including myself.
SAMANTHA WHO?: I'll admit that I've never seen an episode of this program. However it had a real following, especially among many women. Further, the heartbreak of the cancer by the star, Christina Applegate, made her a popular figure on women's magazines and gave the series a boost in interest. Yet rumor is that ABC attempted to cut costs by insisting on a traditional two camera shooting of the show rather than the more expensive one camera shooting. And this cost factor might have led to the show being axed. This cancellation will make more than a few persons mad, and seems especially callous in the light of Applegate's cancer situation. Not a good public relations ploy, ABC. Not good at all. Not likely to be picked up by another network either. This show will remain a sort of cult favorite among some women and the DVD sales should continue to give the show a little life.
CW: EVERBODY HATES CHRIS: I think it might have been Tracey Coyle over at Wizbang Pop that once called this the "best show that you've never seen". She's certainly right about that fact. This was a great comedy based off the young life of comic Chris Rock. It was darn funny and a real gem. However no one seems to watch the CW network all that much, and the network really has few highly rated programs or enough of a budget to afford really big shows. Whatever replaces this show likely will cost the network less money.
FOX: PRISON BREAK: This was a great drama, although I never really watched it very much. But it had a pretty fair fan base. And those fans will hate to see it gone.
TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNER CRONICLES: This was actually a pretty fair TV adaption of the popular TERMINATOR films. However, without the weekly mega-budget of $100 million or more like the films, this series probably greatly disappointed many persons who expected more action and more special effects. Without this big movie budget, expectations were dampened and disappointed fans simply failed to continue to watch in great numbers. The series unfortunately fell in ratings from over 11 million viewers last season to just 4.64 million viewers this year. It will interesting to see if the failure of this series will hurt the movie series as the new TERMNATOR film opens.
If anything, it appears that production costs more than ratings might have killed off some great TV series for the Fall 2009 season. Most apparent of that will be over at NBC which will begin to air a new cheaper production cost talk show with Jay Leno to cut out the cost of paying for five expensive 10pm dramas. Hopefully CBS will continue to do well enough that 10pm dramas will continue there, and the cost cutting move will remain unique to just NBC, otherwise the quality drama might really suffer. The effect of the recession will really be apparent on the 2009 Fall TV season. Cheaper shows, less quality shows, more belt tightening.