Behind the scenes
With renewal season in full swing overseas, here’s a look at how shows get renewed or cancelled.
Remember when your maths teacher told you to pay attention “because you will use this in life”? If you’re in the television commissioning game, your teacher wasn’t lying. But don’t worry: there’s no algebra or trigonometry to decide if a show gets another season or if the axe falls. “It’s basic maths – if the numbers are there, the show gets another season. If not, well…” explains Ziyanda Mngomezulu, e.tv’s head of local productions.
“It’s not just one person who makes the decisions,” adds Ziyanda. “We run a review process during and after the season once we have all the data.” That includes audience tracking, viewer response on social media, as well the revenue stream. “Marketing, production and publicity teams have a panel meeting and give input, then the sums get done,” says Ziyanda. “If it makes sense on paper, then we take it to the MD and present to them.”
Likewise, “The SABC commissions content from a variety of producers and distributors across the genres. A drama like Thula’s Vine (2017- current) was commissioned for SABC3 based on the channel’s strategic needs,” says Zandile Nkonyeni, head of PR for all SABC TV channels. The public broadcaster gets viewership figures after the season has ended and they start the review process. Then it’s a wait – Thula’s Vine, which ended in June, is still waiting to hear about a renewal.
There’s a very good reason that shows like Survivor (2000- current) and The Amazing Race (2002- current; see more on p31) have reached 35 and 29 seasons respectively. “Survivor set the standard for unscripted dramas,” says creator and executive producer Mark Burnett. “We’ve never gone away from the core values, but we’ve kept it fresh and that has brought the viewers back season after season. We have viewers watching now who watched season 1 and there are people watching who weren’t born 17 years ago.”
When Survivor started, it had an average of 28.3 million viewers per season, but today’s number (10.32 million) is about a third, so why renew it for two seasons at a shot? “We have a bad season here and there, but we always come back and deliver,” says host Jeff Probst. Amazing Race host
Phil Keoghan adds that “the viewers are invested. The core audience returns and we give them evolutions based on the world – like using social media in season 25”.
Stability and predictability is also a factor. When SABC3 moved Days Of Our Lives (1965- current; see p22) to a 22:00 timeslot, the viewership shrank. “Shuffling line-ups, along with the fact that often little or no warning is given, can turn a rating hit into a flop in the space of half a season,” says an industry insider. “Then it’s dead.”
SLAYING THE NORMS
Game Of Thrones (2011- current) struckt the sweet spot for network HBO with its season 7, which despite being shorter, set record ratings for each episode. Even the two that were leaked saw an increase in legitimate viewers. “It’s a no-brainer with some shows, like Game Of Thrones,” explains Casey Bloys, HBO programming president. Considering the series reportedly makes HBO over $1 billion (R14bn) a year in sales with a production cost of $420 million per season, it’s simple maths: make more! Likewise, Twin Peaks (1990-2017) was expected to have a huge viewership with the rebooted third season, but instead of millions that were hoped for, the show barely scratched 500 000 viewers per episode.
“Like I said, sometimes it’s simple maths,” laughs Ziyanda.
Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister (Kit Harington and Peter Dinklage) have helped make Game Of Thrones’ renewals a breeze.
Thula’s Vine hasn’t been renewed… or cancelled.
Axing Twin Peaks was an easy decision.