Misfires forced to stay on sidelines

Mix of factors makes skedding stinkers not as simple as it might seem

Sitting on a shelf somewhere deep inside ABC’s Burbank headquarters are never-before-seen episodes of Heather Graham’s short-lived sitcom “Emily’s Reason’s Why Not.”

They’re going to be sitting there for a long, long time.

Even though ABC will have plenty of open timeslots to fill this summer, and lots of repeats that could be dropped in favor of something fresh, Alphabet insiders believe there’s little chance the “lost” episodes of “Emily” will ever get a window on the net.

Same holds true for a slew of other shows that suffered untimely demises this past season — or didn’t even get on the air.

NBC, for example, has six episodes of “Thick and Thin,” a half-hour comedy from “Saturday Night Live” czar Lorne Michaels. It was supposed to bow sometime after January, but so far, the Peacock just hasn’t gotten around to scheduling a premiere date.

Likewise, CBS dumped “Love Monkey” just a couple episodes into its run, and still has several unaired episodes of “Out of Practice” and “Courting Alex.”

Fox bailed on promising dramedy “Head Cases” after two weeks, leaving nearly a half-dozen segs to gather dust. Ditto several episodes of the critically praised Darren Star half-hour “Kitchen Confidential,” which died an ugly death in the fallout from the failure of “Arrested Development” to find an audience on Mondays.

Given their recent rallying cry to put on original programming during the summer, you’d think webheads would jump at the chance to ditch some repeats and give viewers something new, especially since such shows are already bought and paid for.

But a mix of factors — from network egos to the increase in summertime reality skeins — makes scheduling stinkers not as simple as it might seem.

One network exec says webs are loath bring back their duds because nothing good can possibly come of doing so.

“There’s no practical reason to put these shows on,” says one network scheduler. “If they’re dead, they’re dead.”

Indeed, savvy viewers can smell a failed skein a mile away and usually stay away when they know a show’s already been canceled. And during the summer, it makes much more sense for nets to promote their upcoming fall skeins rather than hype last year’s failures.

“At some point, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says CBS senior exec VP Kelly Kahl. “You can put a show on, but you’re not going to really support it or promote it, so nobody’s going to watch it. Unless you have so much space to fill on your schedule, it doesn’t make sense.”

But wait: What if a show that got crushed by brutal in-season competish — think ABC’s well-regarded “Sons & Daughters” — managed to find its audience in the less hectic summer? It would seem logical that nets might want to give shows they like a second chance.

Problem is, nets generally lose their options on actors and producers by the end of May. So on the off chance a failed show actually showed some signs of life, there’s a real possibility the talent involved might already have moved on to something else.

What’s more, having already deemed the shows failures by canceling them in-season, net execs risk looking foolish if a skein actually does OK in a second run.

Only rarely do networks go to the trouble of spending the needed coin to extend their options on talent. That’s what NBC is doing with “Windfall,” the lottery-themed sudser — originally produced for Fox — that’s been in the works for nearly two years.

Peacock says it’ll treat “Windfall” like any other new show, giving it a proper promotional push in the hopes of bringing it back for another season.

For the most part, however, networks believe it makes much more sense to spend valuable promo time and summer real estate building up shows that are already working.

CBS, for example, has a strong record of using the off-season to turn modest performers into hits by exposing them to new eyeballs. Net does this by filling failed timeslots with repeats of a more promising skein.

“If a show’s not picked up (for another season), there’s not a lot of reason to keep it on,” says Kahl.

In recent years, the strategy has helped shows such as “Without a Trace” and “NCIS” blossom into major hits. Look for Eye programmers to give a similar boost this summer to frosh faves “The Unit” and “How I Met Your Mother.”

Also conspiring to keep failed shows off the air in the summer: the influx of original reality programming. Nets that once had plenty of holes to fill in the summer now fill as much as 30% or 40% of their summer skeds with firstrun fare.

CBS, NBC and even Fox also have an abundance of procedural dramas that hold up well in repeats. It makes more financial sense to take a second or third run of “CSI” or “House” than it does to air an original episode of a show that’ll likely get low ratings and attract few advertisers.

In the end, “You’re always going to have more product than you have room for on your schedule,” says Fox sked guru Preston Beckman. “It all comes down to math.”

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