Miércoles 28 de Septiembre de 2005, Ip nº 128

Never say never: Alternatives for attracting niche viewers create an afterlife for canceled network series
Por Rob Owen

It used to be when short-lived TV series were canceled, they went away forever -- no syndication reruns, no cable, nothing except an episode or two in the archives of the Museum of Television & Radio.

Not anymore.

With the proliferation of cable channels hungry to fill time and the new revenue stream provided by TV shows on DVD, lost TV series are a thing of the past.

Whether a show only lived long enough to have 13 episodes produced or two seasons, many TV shows that would have once disappeared forever are finding, if not new life, at least an afterlife.

"life as we know it" lasted fewer than the 13 episodes produced for ABC last fall, but the entire series came out on DVD last month.

"Ned & Stacey," a Fox sitcom that ran two seasons in the early '90s, benefitted from the newfound cachet of its stars (a pre-"Will & Grace" Debra Messing and a pre-"Sideways" Thomas Haden Church) and arrived on DVD last week.

On Friday, the sci-fi movie "Serenity" hits movie theaters, three years after the TV series it's based on, "Firefly," premiered and was quickly canceled by Fox before all 13 episodes aired. Since July, "Firefly" episodes have been airing on Sci Fi Channel. The series was released on DVD in late 2003 and sold more than 500,000 copies, convincing Universal Pictures there was still profit to reap from the short-lived series.

Beginning Saturday, SOAPnet (not carried on Comcast; Channel 118 on Adelphia, Channel 262 on DirecTV and Channel 188 on Dish Network) airs the 2001 Fox soap "Pasadena" at 7 p.m. Saturday (rerunning at 10 p.m. Saturday).

The drama, which starred Dana Delany as one daughter in a wealthy, corrupt Southern California family, aired just four times before it was canceled, but the murder-mystery at the show's core was resolved by the end of the 13 episodes produced. SOAPnet will televise the entire series, including nine previously unaired episodes.

"Pasadena" star Delany said she thinks the show was ahead of its time in light of the popularity of the similarly themed (but not quite as dark or twisted) "Desperate Housewives."

"There are only so many stories, and half of that has to do with the execution of it and half of it has to with the timing," Delany said, pointing to her friend, writer John McNamara, whose "Profit" was released recently on DVD. "Now people are discovering it. That was ahead of its time, too."

Delany suspects Sony, which produced "Pasadena," may use the show's SOAPnet run to gauge whether there's a market to release the series on DVD.

SOAPnet general manager Deborah Blackwell said she had her eye on "Pasadena" because it fit her network's brand.

"Sometimes I think timing is everything," Blackwell said. "This originally aired in September 2001, and it might not have fit the national mood at the time. We believe it has a great pre-'Desperate Housewives' feel to it."

She compared it to "Skin," a series aired by SOAPnet last fall that lasted only a few weeks on Fox in 2003.

"In this time of new, emerging technology platforms, there's more and more of a need and a place for quality programming to resurface," she said.

Joss Whedon, writer and director of "Serenity," said last week that Universal Pictures began discussions about making a "Firefly" movie before the series was a hit on DVD, but, he added, "the DVD sales did happen conveniently right before the green light meeting. Without taking credit away from Universal, I'd have to say [the DVD sales] didn't hurt."

The "Firefly" DVD was one of the first short-lived TV shows to make a splash in the home entertainment market.

"Now that that paradigm has worked, the market will be inundated," Whedon said. "It's a revenue source companies weren't aware of. If money can be made, it will be made ... I was just in the video store and those awaiting the first season of 'McMillan and Wife' need wait no longer."

The return of "Pasadena" and an afterlife for "Firefly" on the big screen demonstrate significant changes in the TV industry that make it more likely than ever that fans will be able (eventually) to see a series through to its conclusion or have a piece of it as a keepsake.

Blackwell points to an October 2004 Wired article by Chris Anderson called "The Long Tail," which he continues to expand upon online (www.thelongtail.com). Anderson writes that by concentrating on hits, entertainment conglomerates have missed out on a market that stands to be equally profitable: misses.

With new technology, the physical world has lost its importance to the cyber realm. If you're Amazon.com and physical space is not an issue (one warehouse as opposed to 100 freestanding Barnes & Noble stores that only stock best-sellers) it doesn't matter if you sell 10,000 copies of "Seinfeld" or only one copy of 10,000 other, less popular shows. If priced the same, the profit on "Seinfeld" or the single-copy sales of 10,000 other series are identical.

"Almost anything is worth offering on the off chance it will find a buyer," Anderson writes, the opposite of conventional thinking that attempts to anticipate demand, marketing opportunities, etc., before making a TV show available on DVD.

But the costs are so minuscule -- $1 per disc in every DVD boxed set (without extras or super-fancy packaging), according to Scott Hettrick, home entertainment editor for Variety -- that it's cheaper to manufacture than to evaluate whether it's worth manufacturing, Anderson says.

"Whereas in the past, we may have tended to go for the least common denominator in all forms of media, in the new form of distribution -- DVDs from Netflix, for example -- they can create a demand and home for things for which there may be a passionate but more niche audience."

Much of it comes down to a matter of control that's increasingly in the hands of consumers.

"With the advent of DVD, you can watch it whenever you want to," Delany said, adding that she's glad "Pasadena" will get a shot in the age of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) such as TiVo. "It seems to be more about choice than anything else. You now have a choice of when and where to watch something, which is probably why movies are being affected so badly."

Networks and studios still have to make these programs available, but when they do, viewers can better customize how they want to spend their time and money.

"With the advent of TiVo and with DVDs, there's a new culture going on where people want to get the box set or they want to get Netflix to send them four or five DVDs [of episodes of a TV show] and just knock them out," said "Prison Break" executive producer Paul Scheuring. "They just want to keep powering through."

With that kind of fervent devotion in mind, SOAPnet's Blackwell already has her eye on some of this fall's serialized dramas, the kind of shows that might not get enough viewers to survive on broadcast networks but that will appeal to her network's smaller niche audience.

"We can let the networks be our development piece," she said. "The larger networks have the infrastructure to produce a great deal more material than they're able to use. Wise cable programmers do keep an eye on it."

  25/09/2005. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.