Once proud Lost, like Heroes, is having problems

by Paul William Tenny

lost.jpgI'm sure I could pull in a number of examples -- the networks are all down across the board -- some are far more obvious than others (Terminator: SCC, Dollhouse), but this example serves us best. Does anyone remember when Lost pulled in something like 26 million people for its second season premier?

Like Heroes, both critical favorites that fell off the wagon, Lost has been testing new series lows in the ratings. Whose fault is it?
Although its series low came a couple of weeks ago, it's not like we're talking about a meaningful recovery here. At 8.4 million viewers this past Wednesday (April 8th), Lost is down 17.6 million viewers from its series high. This show has lost more viewers than most shows will ever get, and it's not like anybody expected Lost to keep up that kind of pace for its entire run.

Still, after seeing that kind of success, one would expect that a series of that accomplishment wouldn't have fallen this far, this fast.

I don't know off hand what kind of ratings Prison Break's first season had, but I do know they were pretty damned good, and that it was considered one of the breakout hits of its class. But it didn't take very long for it to begin shedding viewers as quickly as it was losing my interest. And Heroes, which briefly surpassed Lost in the ratings for a few weeks at its peek (at what, 12 million viewers?) it too has been steadily falling.

The problem here isn't necessarily that these shows have lost their magic, although that may be the case with some of them individually. Nor is it only the result of viewers leaving the networks for cable, which is becoming a serious problem, one that isn't going to go away. And it may not only be about us learning that serial dramas simply don't last very long due to burnout.

I suspect it's a combination of the three such that some shows will falter for two reasons, but not all three, and not always for the same two reasons.

Heroes took a nose dive in quality in the second season and NBC has been losing viewers to rival networks and to cable for some time now. I suspect that those things had more to do with its ratings problems than serial drama fatigue.

ABC is having more success than NBC, but Lost has been on for much longer and may have stretched that particular story as far as it can go, and creative talent behind camera keeps leaking away to feature film development.

It has been argued before that with dozens of viable cable competitors (which isn't to say that individually one of these cablers can match a network just yet) that network television is living in a new world, but spending money like it's still living in the old one. You can't spend $4 million per episode on a network drama anymore when a cable network can spend an eighth of that still manage a third of the viewers. For the money spent, it just doesn't make sense anymore.

At least not unless you really are pulling in 20+ million people per episode like CSI does.

That's sad for us because the production value of shows with lavish budgets can be a very beautiful thing, but reality is reality and a part of that is acknowledging that these shows are failing for natural reasons.

The proper response, then, ought to be to create the best shows possible with less money right from the start. Either way, I think it's more than unfair to hate on Heroes because of its ratings problems when virtually every show is having the same problems. Even American Idol at 20+ million viewers is down from the 30s and near 40s that it used to enjoy.

What the networks need to do is launch an all out war on cable by bringing in 8-12 new programs and keeping all of them on the air. It's the only way to compete with cable when cable can do it cheaper, but can't keep up with the number of total programs producing original content, and they need to stick with them for a full year at least.

Total ratings for a single program is no longer the metric that matters. It's total ratings for the network where that number is decreasing for them, and increasing for cable. That's the battle they've got to fight and they aren't going to win it with the old strategy.
in Television


Related posts:


I for one have almost completey left network TV. I am so tired of the show I watch getting cancelled.
On Cable you WILL get a complete season, something that the Networks have a real problem with. I watch only LOST on ABC now and ABC Family lost me when they cancelled Kyle XY and Middleman...
I will be done with Fox as well after they cancel Sarah Conner and Dollhouse. That leaving only Lie to Me as the lone show I may watch...
ON CBS I still watch NCIS but that is it now and NBC if it cancelles Chuck has lost me as well....
Now Cable has me the few nights they have original programs, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Leverage, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Plus other shows that put Network TV to shame...

It may be too late for me to ever trust Network TV again, so any new shows no matter how good they are, may never be seen by me....
I can not trust the networks to give a show I like a chance.....
I do not watch any Game shows or Reality programing, so basiclly, The few shows I did watch and you know what most of those were, are now gone as I am....

Leave a comment

View more stories by visiting the archives.

Media Pundit categories