Network TV is a business based in failure — but not all failures are created equal.
Most years, three out of four frosh skeins fail to make it to a second season. Some are doomed from the start (think any series ABC has put on Thursday night for the past five years). Others fall victim to bad luck, like UPN’s “Missy Elliott Experience” — a vibrant, rough-edged take on “American Idol” that had the misfortune of airing directly opposite Fox’s monster hit.
Then there are the high-profile misses, the prominent failures that few people saw coming.
They’re the shows that, when first announced, seem to have everything going for them: big stars, superstar producers, killer timeslots. When the Nielsen votes are finally counted, however, the viewers just aren’t there.
Despite all the hype surrounding breakout hits like “Desperate Housewives,” “House,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost,” the season about to end has offered up more than the usual number of big-time duds. Every net had at least one, while some — like problem-plagued NBC — seemed to have more than their share.
The good news? While film flops like “Ishtar” seem to live in infamy forever, the ever-increasing volume of TV production means even the biggest TV stinkeroos tend to be forgotten after a few years, if not a few months.
Anyone remember Jackie Mason’s “Chicken Soup”?
Here’s a look at three of this season’s biggest disappointments:
Film moguls don’t get more successful than Jeffrey Katzenberg. In reality TV, nobody’s bigger than Mark Burnett.
So a project that marries Katzenberg and Burnett, and throws in Sylvester Stallone for good measure, shoulda been a contender. Instead, NBC’s boxing-themed reality skein “The Contender” was knocked out.
Even though the show resulted in some of the best reviews of Burnett’s career, NBC got cold feet when Fox’s copycat “The Next Great Champ” flopped in the fall. Net kept pushing back the premiere date for “Contender,” and then all but sentenced the show to death by scheduling it Sundays at 8 p.m. opposite established hits like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “The Simpsons.”
Despite the killer slot, “Contender” has shown some signs of life, managing to significantly improve the Peacock’s Sunday average and attracting hard-to-reach young men. What qualifies it as afailure is its pricetag for NBC ($2 million-plus per hour) and its inability to live up to very high expectations — something unforgivable in Hollywood, a town that’s all about perception.
The good news for Burnett and Katzenberg: Because of the premium license fee they got from NBC for the show, they won’t lose a dime on “The Contender.” In fact, if you count the revenue generated by corporate sponsorships and a budding boxing league, the men may actually turn a healthy profit.
There’s no such positive spin for “Next Great Champ.” Skein was such a clunker, Fox moved it cable sibling Fox Sports Net. Not only did Fox lose millions, but the net got a black eye for so blatantly ripping off a rival.
A shattered Icon
Mel Gibson’s Icon Prods. emerged from last year’s upfront season as the hottest new indie TV shingle on the block. Boosted by the halo effect from “The Passion of the Christ,” as well as some savvy development, the company managed to land three drama series commitments — more than some established players like Carsey-Werner.
Once the fall season began, things began to fall apart.
“Clubhouse,” a sweet coming-of-age drama for CBS about a young batboy, barely got to first base with viewersand struck out barely a month after it got up to bat.
Another Icon-produced skein, family laffer “Complete Savages,” drew good reviews for its pilot and seemed a lock to flourish on ABC’s Friday lineup. But the Alphabet began tinkering with its premise and never really gave it a shot to grow.
Then there’s “Kevin Hill,” the Taye Diggs vehicle for UPN. Skein had critics going gaga for what some hailed as one of the net’s best dramas ever, and one of the best new shows of the year, period.
But despite a promotional campaign as big as UPN has ever mounted for a new show, “Kevin” didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the ratings. Nine months later, the show’s a longshot to return.
Icon now seems likely to come out of this week’s upfronts with zero projects on the air.
TV doesn’t get much lamer than “The Billionaire,” a blatant attempt to capitalize on the success of “The Apprentice,” that was hosted by media mogul Mark Cuban.
Most industry insiders wrote this show off the moment it was announced. But not the execs at ABC.
Alphabet spent months hyping the show, even holding it back from its planned summer bow. Nonetheless, most viewers didn’t bother showing up for the premiere — and many of those who did bailed after the first episode.
Its failure proves that even a network with a development season as sizzling as ABC has had this season can still lay an egg.