What TV Networks Should Learn from ‘Revolution’s' Cancellation

The cancellation of NBC’s ‘Revolution’ was expected, but still an unfortunate end to what was once a promising series. But its early exit doesn’t have to be in vain. Its preventable downfall could teach networks a thing or two about how to nurture a hit.

May 14, 2014 at 8:32AM

The revolution will no longer be televised.

Revolution, the blackout drama from NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)), was canceled this week after two seasons of seesaw ratings. While the concept and the initial execution were strong, it fell victim to a series of bad moves that damaged it irreparably. Executives from all networks can learn from NBC's mistakes.


Credit: NBC

Splitting headache

Every network wants the next big "it" series. Such phenomena don't just pull great numbers for themselves, they allow a network to build a profitable slate around them. Revolution made a splash from the start due to its interesting premise, talented ensemble, and highly regarded production team ... but then the wheels came off.

The series from J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke about a world where the power had gone out for good was given a preview during the 2012 Summer Olympics and handed the Monday night 10 p.m., following The Voice, providing it massive exposure. But when a show gets too much exposure too fast, network executives overthink. NBC's team decided to toy with the traditional viewing model.

Audiences hate the stop/start associated with the annual TV season. They don't like having their favorite shows air back-to-back in the fall and then skip full months in the spring. While other networks have taken steps toward fixing that problem, there is still no industry solution, but what NBC did with Revolution wasn't even close.

A few weeks into its run the network announced the show would go on break after just 10 episodes and return in the spring when the final 10 would run uninterrupted. That meant the show would be off the air from the end of November until the end of March.

Yes, other networks (mainly on cable) take this "split-season" approach, but rarely with rookie shows looking to build an audience, and even rarer without giving viewers fair warning. NBC got audiences hooked, but then inexplicably at the show's peak, pulled the show away, like Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown.

To be fair, NBC had its reasons. Executives thought Revolution would suffer without The Voice as its lead-in and they wanted to wait for the reality smash to resume its run before airing the back half of the season. The network also thought reality veteran The Biggest Loser (which replaced Voice during that time) would be better paired with new series Deception.... It was not. Viewership fell sharply upon the show's return as audiences had moved onto other options.



Credit: NBC

Errors aside, Revolution still merited a second season with a fresh start. Remember, it was at one point the highest-rated show of the season. But analysts and investors knew it wouldn't keep its original timeslot because a high-buzz show called The Blacklist was testing off the charts. NBC shuttled Revolution to Wednesday ... in the lead-off slot.

Now NBC had a show people already were fleeing put in the unenviable position of kicking off a night against established hits like SurvivorArrow, and The Middle. Even the now-canceled X Factor was topping it, which had to irk the network.

It didn't help the show got more convoluted in the second season. Audiences already had issues with the plot around the time it returned from its first hiatus, and now it was getting noticeably worse. It was no surprise to see the show continually get trounced in the ratings.

Network impact


Credit: NBC

Revolution is a prime example of how not to handle a show, especially one that was working. Scheduling is everything in the TV business and to see the drama get bumped around only solidified the jabs critics had taken at NBC over its recent slates. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ordering a series is one thing, but giving it the right timeslot is another altogether. Many "sure things" have been felled by getting a terrible timeslot. Advertisers and audiences often only give shows one shot to make a mark before they lose interest.

To be clear NBC executives are not dumb -- they had a run of bad luck amplified by preventable mistakes. The ebb and flow of the ratings game will eventually return to its favor, but errors like these will only delay that evolution.

If executives can think like viewers and act accordingly, rather than overthinking and ultimately outsmarting themselves, the networks, advertisers, investors, and fans will all be better off.

You can profit as well

The TV industry is a massive business, but advertisers and executives don't have to be the only ones to profit. You can also. There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had and currently cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't always be the case. And when cable falters, will you know which companies are poised to benefit. Click here to learn more.

Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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