In a recent article for Ad Age, Brian Steinberg wonders whether the television drama, often expensive to produce and hard to draw eyeballs towards, is on its way out.
“Economic pressures have begun to intrude on the desire to use high-quality drama to draw new viewers. Citing ratings and economic factors, FX declined to pick up Damages for a fourth season, despite noted actress Glenn Close starring in the show in a critically acclaimed performance as a conniving attorney,” Steinberg writes in the piece. “Despite winning near-universal acclaim for airing two seasons of Men of a Certain Age, TNT opted to end the program, citing business factors. Over at AMC, Mad Men sends fans into paroxysms of compliments but still has never been TV’s most-watched offering, and some of the program’s fiscal failings were put on public display this past spring during negotiations to keep it on the air.” Steinberg notes that, although television’s top dramas enrapture loyal fanbases, the high costs associated with them mean that a dedicated following isn’t enough to justify continuing them. “The back end is where the real money is made,” said Magna Global analyst Brian Hughes. “Comedy and reality are cheaper to produce and comedies tend to have a better life in syndication.”
“Even so, the allure of a particularly well-crafted drama remains. Launching a successful one can bring a network the Emmys and Peabodys, as well as the tinge of high-minded arts and letters, that draw the desirable high-income audiences that marketers covet,” Steinberg continues. “For cable outlets hoping to emerge from early days of airing repeats of old shows and movies that make viewers think of other networks, an original drama can put a network on the map, as The Shield did with FX or Mad Men did with AMC.”