Quality isn’t enough, even on basic cable


For this week’s weekly Variety, I wrote about this fall’s rude awakening for fans of certain basic cable shows:

It’s the notion that comforts many a TV showrunner: Abandon broadcast TV and leave your ratings worries behind; all cable cares about is quality.

But as those behind some critically acclaimed cable shows are being reminded, you can run from ratings worries but you can’t hide.

“Rubicon,” one of last summer’s best-reviewed new cable series, was canceled by AMC on Nov. 11 after one season. And “Terriers,” one of the fall’s best-reviewed new cable series, is on the ropes at FX, its audience well below a million viewers overall, with a microscopic rating in the 18-49 demo.

Each series debuted to positive reviews and then improved creatively as their freshman seasons progressed, earning the kind of viewer passion that made success stories out of network-mates like AMC’s “Mad Men” and FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”

But with the “Rubicon” cancelation came the reminder that when it comes to ratings, even cable — at least basic cable, as opposed to subscription-based channels like HBO and Showtime — has its breaking point.

“What was presented to me by AMC — who, by the way, I really liked,” says “Rubicon” showrunner Henry Bromell, “is that it wasn’t the (overall) numbers that was the problem for them. It was the fact that the demographic skewed old. And since AMC is advertising-based, not like Showtime or HBO, they need those ads. That’s their business, and they couldn’t get them.

“They started talking about these numbers, and it had never come up before in discussions, because it had never occurred to them it would happen. They were flummoxed.” …

Read the rest, including quotes from “Terriers” showrunner Shawn Ryan, at Variety.com. Of course, FX has an opportunity to undermine this story’s central thesis by renewing “Terriers.”

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