When NBC announced it was reviving the old Craig T. Nelson sitcom Coach the common response was a befuddled, “Why?” It’s not that Coach was necessarily a bad show in its day; it’s more that no one seemed to be asking for it to come back. When a plot synopsis for the proposed revival was released, the common response turned to, “Oh, this sounds pretty bad.” Nelson’s Coach Fox was to return from retirement to work as an assistant coach to his own grown son at an Ivy League school which was just starting up a new football team, completely ignoring the fact that no true Ivy League school would only just now be getting around to starting its own team. However, NBC was so eager to stay in the Craig T. Nelson business post-Parenthood it gave Coach a straight-to-series, 13-episode order. Whether we wanted it or not, a new season of Coach was on its way, 18 years after the original series ended its run.
Well, a straight-to-series order isn’t the iron-clad guarantee it used to be because NBC just preemptively canceled Coach. According to THR, “Insiders say the comedy, which had just begun production, was not going well and multiple people inside NBC were not optimistic about it from the start.” The irony here is that the creative benefit of a straight-to-series order is that it allows the showrunner and various executives far more time to devote to planning and problem-solving than if they had gone through the traditional pilot process. If the show wasn’t working in the early goings they should have had plenty of time to fix it, assuming it was actually fixable. NBC cutting its losses this early speaks to how little faith the network had in the project.
However, it’s also a sign of the times. Last month, Disney innocently acknowledged the obvious (traditional TV ratings are down, ESPN is losing subscribers as well as broadcasters), and the stock market completely lost its mind, punishing all of the media conglomerates which produce TV content, particularly Viacom. In the span of three days, Hollywood conglomerates lost a combined $60 billion before the stocks rebounded slightly, and then a week later the same basic pattern repeated itself.
Meanwhile, at the Televisions Critics Association Press Tour FX President John Landgraf gave a slight “The Sky is falling” speech in which he argued that there is simply too much content on TV these days, a claim he later re-iterated at the Edinburough International Television Festival:
“I’ve looked generally at (the amount of) voices in television as something that has benefited us, but you reach something called ‘the paradox of choices.’ ” Too much choice “breeds discontent” and “becomes work because whenever you’re choosing something, you’re un-choosing something else.”
He also said “we’re choking on our own abundance” and predicted “some level of crisis and contraction coming.” According to Landgraf’s research team at FX, “More than 400 original scripted English-language series — just in prime time, not counting game shows, reality shows, documentary shows, daytime or nighttime talk shows, news or sports — will air on American television in 2015 before the year is out.”
The networks are understandably more nervous than usual about competing in that kind of marketplace. As a result, more and more of the new 2015-2016 TV shows are being tinkered with before they make it to air. The original showrunners for Chicago Med, The Catch, The Grinder and Blood & Oil have already left due to “creative differences.”
A handful of shows have undergone title changes, some of them multiple times. The most recent example is Fox’s “The Frankenstein Code” becoming Lookinglass. Before that, as summarized by THR:
Fox changed the name of its mideason single-camera comedy from Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life to The Guide to Surviving Life and then quietly back to the original title. NBC renamed its DJ Nash comedy People Are Talking to Truth Be Told. The network’s fall dramas The Player and Heartbreaker went through pilot season as Endgame and Heart Matters, respectively. ABC’s drama Blood and Oil was originally titled The Bakken and then Boom and then Oil before settling on its current title. The network’s Shondaland-produced drama The Catch was known as Smoke and Mirrors through pilot season, and Wicked Crime was updated from L.A. Crime. Jenna Bans’ buzzy drama The Family changed titles twice, from Flesh and Blood and Original Sin.
Plus, multiple shows have undergone significant cast changes, such as Christina Hendricks being replaced by Carla Gugino in Cameron Crowe’s Showtime series Roadies.
It’s not just the new shows which are undergoing increased scrutiny, though. VH1’s original series Hindsight recently had its second season renewal withdrawn as the Viacom-owned network’s new leadership reconsidered the show’s anemic ratings. That news came several months after VH1 waited a single day to renew Hindsight for a second season after its first season finale aired. Additionally, VH1 preemptively canceled a planned line-up of morning TV shows which were in production but had yet to premiere.
That’s the brave new world of TV. A straight-to-series order no longer guarantees you anything. Poor Coach. A second season renewal can be easily withdrawn. That’s got to hurt, Hindsight. Struggling new showrunners will be replaced as fast as possible. Sorry, original people behind Chicago Med, The Catch, The Grinder and Blood & Oil.
Of course, networks tinker with shows all the time. A canned showrunner here, a changed title over there is not out of the ordinary. However, with Wall Street flipping out, cable network presidents predicting an inevitable contraction and Netflix forever claiming more and more market share the networks do seem a little more motivated than usual to stave off potential problems with their new shows, even if it that means canceling something like Coach before it’s ever even had the chance to fail on the air.