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

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.

Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 14, 2014, at 9:37 AM, jonnrogers wrote:

    Another show that required people to think is gone. More mindless programing to take its spot.

  • Report this Comment On May 14, 2014, at 11:35 PM, Monroe wrote:

    All shows have ups and downs. This was a great show, with a crappy network airing it, and despite its misgivings, and it did have some, it was the ONLY show I looked forward to. And, the only show I watched on NBC. I know it is too much to hope,that another network will save it, but I will still hope,for the impossible. LOVE Revolution. Heartbroken its done. #RenewRevolution

  • Report this Comment On May 15, 2014, at 10:54 AM, dwalace4 wrote:

    They come up with every excuse for cancelling a good show, but I know that people are tired of all these reality shows, but they keep them on, all because the NETWORK likes it, not because we do. The Voice, and all that other stupid crap has run it's course. It's all about economics, and they don't want to spend the money on good quality shows.

  • Report this Comment On May 15, 2014, at 12:37 PM, jopr432 wrote:

    I like Revolution. I'm sick and tired of reality shows every time you get interested in a show they take it off. I can name a lot of them. Its all about money! "thats all they care about. After while thats all you have to watch is stupid reality shows. You are bunch of CHEEP SKATES.

  • Report this Comment On May 15, 2014, at 2:22 PM, Slipstream wrote:

    OK, I'm watching it last night (DVR'd it) and on comes "Series Finale!" FINALE??!? Well that broke my heart. Revolution is one of only six network shows that I watch regularly. Interesting premise and characters, lots of storylines to be developed/resolved...and poof! Another one bites the dust. I'm gun-shy; every time a good show comes on I just wait for the stupid network to cancel it. I too am SICK of reality shows taking up so much programming space. It's like the cheap and lazy way out, let's have another lame reality show. I hope that another network will rescue this gem. NBC really flubbed this one. Boo-hiss!

  • Report this Comment On May 16, 2014, at 1:56 PM, wickedhappy wrote:

    To say I am heartbroken that Revolution is cancelled would be an amazing understatement. I love this show! I will miss it if no other network picks it up. I don't watch primetime tv. I got hooked on this show after watching season 1 on Netflix and I've actually really enjoyed watching it each week along with so many other fans (many of whom I now consider friends) on Twitter. I hope that NBC and other networks really do learn from this (we'll see). In the meantime a lot of us hope that someday/somehow we'll get a continuation of this epic story in some format or other. #RelocateRevolution

  • Report this Comment On May 16, 2014, at 8:23 PM, jjsmtn wrote:

    I am going to do whatever I can not to buy anything at the NBC store, not buy anything from sponsors of any NBC show and not watch anything else on the NBC network.. yes this will be tough. sometimes impossible, but it's my way to protest. it would be great if enough people did that to actually make a difference.....NBC is back to being the "nothing but crap" network

  • Report this Comment On May 18, 2014, at 11:39 PM, again2876 wrote:

    Let’s get this petition signed. It takes one minute and it can't hurt to show other networks how many of us want it back and WILL watch it if they take it on. PLEASE sign this. It certainly can't hurt.

  • Report this Comment On May 31, 2014, at 1:03 PM, flatlander wrote:

    NBC executives are not dumb??? What idiots came up with the idea of switching The Tonight Show to Conan? Or ruining The Weather Channel with reality shows? Or turning SyFy into the Zombie network? The worst thing you can do to a show is to start moving it around and hacking up a regular season. They never seem to learn this. Take a successful show, try to use it to beat up on other networks' successes, and you'll toast your investment every time.

  • Report this Comment On June 04, 2014, at 4:49 AM, Kate77 wrote:

    My husband and I LOVED this show.

    And I agree with what was said in another comment here: It's a show that makes you think!! It's was intelligent, funny, mysterious, action-packed and a loveable, attractive cast. It had all the qualities a high profile series has nowadays.

    This article is so true but it is so sad that it needed to be written. Had NBC handled the show differently - as it should have been handled - it would still be on the air, it would be popular and it would have run for at least 5 full season.

    We can only hope that other networks will see the profit that this show can provide. NETFLIX? HBO? TNT? Hope you're listening.


    If you loved this show, sign the petition! Let's bring it back!!

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