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To rant or to rave, that is the question. For whatever reason it seems appropriate that the very first Seat42f rant or rave column should be a rant. After contemplating several choices, as we dive into a new fall TV season, I decided to pick on NBC. Don’t worry ABC, CBS, CW and FOX; I’m sure you’ll get your turn under our microscope. My problem with NBC is their desire to make all of their new NBC series available for viewing prior to their respective series premiere dates.
Over the past week NBC decided to make all four of their new series available for On Demand on just about every cable company in the U.S. You will be able to watch the first episodes of the “Bionic Woman”, “Chuck”, “Journeyman” and “Life” before their premiere dates in late September. In addition to On Demand you can rent a DVD at Blockbuster with the four premieres. If that wasn’t enough you can even go download the new shows for free from amazon.com. Anyone who wants to watch these shows prior to their big premiere can and probably will do so.
Why do I abhor this move? Because it takes away from the buzz that surrounds a series premiere. Remember last year when you could get all of NBC shows via Netflix or online prior to the season start? Shows like “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip”, “Kidnapped”, “The Black Donnelly’s.” All of those shows failed to open with big enough numbers to keep the series alive. “Studio” was allowed to play out its season because it would have been a public relations nightmare to cancel the Aaron Sorkin helmed show. “Kidnapped” and “The Black Donnelly’s” were banished to only being available online for fans of the series to see where the stories were headed.
I detested the preview idea last year and I dislike it even more this year because NBC had a very strong development season and this crop of new shows is more than good enough to promote via a traditional grassroots effort. I get the business need to want to work with the cable companies and give them content for the video on demand platform, but allowing viewers to access new series before they air deflates any buzz or momentum a new series might have built up. I’m all for episodes being available on demand, but only after they have aired.Â How many people are going to rush out to see the new “Harry Potter” movie if you can rent it or download it before it premieres in the theater? By making these shows so widely available NBC has taken the event out of TV and on some levels removed the buildup and anticipation out of all four of their new show’s premieres.
Fast forward to the day after each of the premiere dates. When the four series launch too many people will have seen the shows and the numbers will be down creating this false sense of “nobody watched” the first episode. With networks pulling shows after as little as 1 episode far too many people play the “wait and see ratings game” to determine if they will add a new show to their viewing schedule. Some viewers are waiting to hear about full season pickups before they invest time in a new show. Countless people record the first few episodes of a new show and then wait and see if it’s something they should watch or if it’s left to be deleted one rainy Sunday afternoon as viewers play the Tivo wasteland game.
Let’s take the Seat42f new fall favorite “Journeyman” as an example. If too many people watch the first episode prior to its actual season premiere it’s only natural that the ratings numbers will be down. The next morning the various news outlets will say something like “Journeyman” fails to hold “Heroes” lead-in with viewers. Those potential fans playing the wait and see ratings game will pass on the series thinking “Journeyman” was a ratings loser for not holding enough of the “Heroes” lead-in. We heard time and time again from fans last year something along the lines of “I was going to tune in and have heard great things, but figured the network would cancel the show so I never started watching.”
Maybe I am old school, but I still like the idea of watching a new show in its regular premiere time slot and then talking about it the next day at work. At the very least, watching the show and then going to message boards and chat rooms after the premiere to discuss with other fans has now been diluted as well. It’s hard to get people in mass to rush to message boards right when the show ends when so many of them have seen the first episode weeks in advance. Time will tell if the NBC strategy pays off. To me though NBC has replaced their slogan of “Must See TV” with “Anytime Any Day Before It Airs.”
My advice to fans of the four new series is wait until the premiere dates and then watch to keep those ratings where they should be for all four fantastic new series.