Cable does not yet compete with network television

by Paul William Tenny

News that the Scifi Channel has bumped the series premier of Stargate Universe from summer to fall raises a growing misconception concerning cable's ability to compete directly with broadcast television. GateWorld writes that "in recent years, however, cable networks have proved that they can go toe-to-toe with the broadcast network." The highest rated series on cable that I'm aware of is the Kyra Sedgwick drama The Closer on TNT.
You could make a reasonable argument that Closer competes directly with network broadcasting so long as it keeps pulling in 8-9 million viewers, but the problem is that Closer is not representative other successful cable series. The last Emmy winner for Outstanding Drama was Mad Men, a show that struggles to get even 1 million people to watch it on any given day, and most people point to it as the best that cable has to offer.

Broadcast shows that get even 6-7 million viewers, competitive with the biggest show on cable, don't last very long on the big four. High standards of quality that often don't amount to much for us, but are factored in by execs nonetheless, combined with higher costs and greater demand for ad revenue make broadcast TV a different ballgame.

It might even benefit the big four to act more like cable if they want to survive the recession with more than just a really tight belt. Spend less, lower expectations and keep series on the air for an entire season to give them some room to breath.

But that's besides the point.

I love the Stargate franchise as much as anybody, but it's ridiculous to suggest that a show that gets ~2 million viewers can compete with networks where shows get canned at 5 million and "good" is defined as 13 million overall and winning the hour in the demo.

There have been a lot of failures from last fall just as there are every single year. I heard the other day -- a bit late because my head has been buried in the sand recently -- that Knight Rider got the axe, and that comes after NBC announced that they were eliminating five hours of scripted programming each week by pushing more mind numbing talk shows which are, whether you like the pigeonholing or not, nothing less than the progenitor of modern day reality programming.

Reality may in fact be what has actually given cable some legs over the last few years, given how inexpensive it is to produce and the disturbingly wide appeal it seems to have. Though I'm not sure if that has more to do with people craving more of it, and the business simply responding to demand, or if the business is trying to create demand for it by limiting our viewing options with just a scattering of scripted shows.

I know that's an exaggeration, but that's what it feels like.

But even then, the reality programming coming out of cable is dwarfed by the ratings accrued by broadcast TV. Dancing With The Stars regularly tops 20 million viewers and with the recent decline of American Idol -- still easily the most watched program on the tube outside of sporting events and the Oscars -- it may even become the top show on any channel in the near future.

Not only does cable not have an answer for Dancing when it comes to reality programming, it doesn't have an answer for the CSIs of the world.

I am personally disappointed that Universe has been bumped to the fall because as a viewer and fan, I want to see it sooner rather than later. Even though production begins in February, we won't see the first episode for nearly half a year, and it seems likely that Scifi will split the season in half like everybody hates, and all the sudden it all seems kind of familiar.

Battlestar Galactica, or 24, anyone?

24's schedule has been screwed with so much that it's been nearly two years since it was last on the air, and trust me, fans don't forget or forgive that kind of thing. And Universe especially doesn't need that kind of resentment after all the SGA-cancellation sour grapes.

I wonder if I'm the only person who thinks that this is more than a really bad idea.

Maybe what we need are some Stargate Universe webisodes, like the ones that Battlestar has been doing, to build interest over the spring and summer until the series debuts on Scifi. It certainly can't hurt.
in Television


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SciFi can't compete against network TV, not really. On network, shows are made or killed within weeks, with 6 or 13 episode orders. SciFi orders a whole season, and keeps the show until the ratings go down, then can it, or can it cuz it costs too much. The reality is that Stargate would have died if it had been on network TV. SciFi is a genre-specific network that orders its shows upfront (from what I can gather) or buys cancelled shows and repeats them (i.e., Moonlighting, Unit 2, etc. etc.).

If that release from Skiffy was correct, and SGU won't debut until the fall, well, yeah, not going to be a lot of happy SGA fans out there as apparently the SGA movie is gonna be used as filler between SGU 'seasons', so that will push the SGA movie till 2010 (of course, first they have to get the cast, and write the script, etc.).

I can't fathom why the Stargate franchise has not gotten webisodes, etc. for it. BSG, Eureka, Sanctuary all get an extra boost on Skiffy's site, yet, the Stargate franchise barely got anything past some brief Q&A video interviews.

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