Today's cuppa: PG Tips tea
Apparently, NBC's "Chuck" is on the bubble, and several TV critics are going to the mat to fight for its survival.
I love "Chuck," never miss it, but I won't be fighting for it. On Twitter, I confined myself to tweeting, "My word on 'Chuck': With 'Heroes,' 'Celeb:Apprentice' (sporadically) and now 'Southland,' the only NBC shows I watch. Just sayin'."
Perhaps its the depressing economic and political news, perhaps it's encroaching ennui, perhaps it's just maturity, or perhaps it's a realization that, especially right now, passion doesn't matter as much as hard numbers.
How many times have networks brought back low-rated shows because of passion from dedicated fans or critics, only to axe them soon afterward anyway?
Unless a show gets the viewers, the numbers or the demographics, which translate into the scratch, the moolah, the filthy lucre, however you want to say it, it's gone.
Now, just how big those numbers have to be or how high the pile of cash has to be depends on the network in question. For example, The CW's bar of success is set somewhat below NBC's, and all cablers have more modest expectations than networks do, but the basic truth remains the same.
Get watched or die.
Mediocre shows that are popular enough to justify their costs stay on. Brilliant shows — especially expensive brilliant shows — that no one watches go away. Pumping half-a-season or a season's worth of mercy renewal into them doesn't usually change that formula in the long run.
There is no conflict between art and commerce, at least not on commerce's side. Unless art either generates cash or is given cash by those who generate cash (and the government gets its money from those who generate cash in the first place, so it's all the same thing), art doesn't survive.
Michelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling as a charity project, and as anyone who's seen "Amadeus" can attest, being extravagantly gifted didn't stop Mozart from needing money from his wealthy benefactors.
"Chuck" and the other bubble shows will either win on the bottom line, or they're gone. It's cold and maybe Darwinian, but true. Only the strong survive.
Sometimes, in the case of NBC's "Friday Night Lights," which just got two more seasons, the strength is not so much big ratings as a combination of controlling the production budget and retaining DirecTV as a broadcast and financial partner — but hey, the numbers worked.
I'll be very sad if "Chuck" goes, but I've been sad before when shows have gone, and I will be again. It's not fatal. To paraphrase a song from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (which has survived for 40ish years by being watched, a lot), there's always next season for dreams to come true.
Maybe next season all those ad dollars will flow back, allowing the networks to toss millions at everybody's passion projects.