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How The Business Of Buying Canceled TV Show Works

May 14, 2018
Originally published on May 14, 2018 6:19 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Reports of the death of the TV show "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" have been greatly exaggerated. Fox canceled the police sitcom last week. A day later, NBC picked it up. Lots of other shows have followed a similar path - "The Mindy Project," canceled by Fox, revived by Hulu, "Community," canceled by NBC, picked up by Yahoo. Michael Schneider is the executive editor of IndieWire and joins us now. Thanks for being here.

MICHAEL SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: If a network cancels a TV show, presumably they think it's not going to be profitable anymore. What does another network see in that show that makes them think differently?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you're right, Ari, in that most shows once they're canceled by a network, that's it. That's the end of the road because the ratings were poor. There's a reason why that show won't continue. But every once in a while, there's still a show that's owned by another network. And in the case of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," that show was owned by Universal Television, which is a division of NBC. So when Fox canceled that show, NBC - knowing that it still has some life in that show, that it internationally performs well for them, and they could squeeze a few more dollars out of it - they decided to pick it up and put it on their own network.

SHAPIRO: Do these gambles often pay off?

SCHNEIDER: Rarely they do. There have been a lot of shows that have been picked up over the years after one network has canceled them. And generally, they only last one more year, and then they're canceled again. There is a reason why people stopped watching those shows. But every once in a while, a diamond in the rough will be cast off by one network and picked up by another. The best example of that is the show JAG, which was canceled by NBC after one season. CBS picked it up, turned it into a hit. And that show eventually led to NCIS, which is still one of the biggest shows on television and continues to this day. That was a big gamble by CBS that paid off big time.

SHAPIRO: So often, these canceled shows have devoted cult followings that are really vocal on social media about wanting it to come back. That was certainly the case with "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." How important is it to have a passionate fan base if that fan base is still pretty small?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, it's nice. But if they don't have Nielsen boxes, if they're not actually being counted, then it only goes so far.

SHAPIRO: Tweets aren't good for advertising, per se.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly. I mean, these days it does help a little bit with the buzz when it comes to certain outlets perhaps picking those shows up. And we've seen that happen more often recently. When Netflix and Hulu especially began, they were picking up shows that were cast off by others. But now that those services have matured, they're not looking as much at others' castoffs anymore either. So there has to be a lot more. There really has to be a business reason first and foremost. The buzz is nice. But if a network's not making money on that show, then it can't continue.

SHAPIRO: "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is not the only recent show this has happened to. Just a couple of days ago, the Tim Allen sitcom "Last Man Standing" went through something similar.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. And that's another example of a show that was owned by one network but actually aired on another network. In this case, Twentieth Century Fox produced "Last Man Standing," but it aired on ABC. When ABC canceled it last year, Fox kicked the tires, realized that they just didn't have a place for it. But then a little show called "Roseanne" returned to prime time and changed everything. Suddenly multi-camera sitcoms are hot again. And you may notice that Tim Allen shares some of the more conservative political leanings that "Roseanne" does as well. So there's a definite Middle America appeal to him and perhaps his show. So Fox is dusting off that show even though it's been off the air for a year. And it's bringing it back to Fridays this fall.

SHAPIRO: Michael Schneider, executive editor of IndieWire. Thank you for talking through this with us.

SCHNEIDER: Definitely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.