Be­hind the scenes

With re­newal sea­son in full swing over­seas, here’s a look at how shows get re­newed or can­celled.

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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,’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.”


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.

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