It has all the makings of a new and disturbing trend in television — companies taking fully produced, unaired series and moving them off their books — but insiders are hesitant to say whether cancellations like what we saw today at Showtime, as well as what has happened at Warner Bros. Discovery, AMC, Netflix and Peacock over the last few months, is becoming the new normal.
Consider it more of a one-time “right-sizing,” they say.
“I don’t think those companies are going to want to make a practice of this on an ongoing basis,” a partner at a talent agency tells Deadline. “They’ve done it and they weren’t burned to the ground by the town, but the reaction was really, really strong. So barring any further kind of financial apocalypse or whatever, I think they’re going to want to reassure people this is a one-of-a-kind thing is based around this unique moment of interest rates shift leading to a change in perception from Wall Street around streaming.”
“To spend that kind of money and to not air it, believe me, we’re all scratching our heads,” added another high-ranking TV agent at a competing agency. He was speaking specifically about HBO Max’s decision to yank Minx, the Lionsgate-produced series that was just about to wrap production on its second season. It joined such Warner Bros. Discovery casualties as Snowpiercer, the animated series Little Ellen as well as TBS’ reality series The Big D and Season 2 of Chad. (Starz ended up rescuing Minx while The Big D landed at USA Network and Chad went to Roku).
AMC followed suit earlier this month with surprise write-downs of its own, such as the sci-fi comedy Demascus as well as Moonhaven, 61st Street and Invitation to a Bonfire. For the exception of Moonhaven, all of the shows had multiple episodes already completed.
Despite that, continues the high-ranking TV agent, his clients aren’t necessarily in a state of panic.
“Most people are just looking at HBO Max and David Zaslav, in particular, as just somebody who is cutting budgets left and right and saving money any single way he can,” the TV agent said. “It’s more about him in particular since he’s taken over and what the hell’s going on over there. AMC has always been kind of the cheaper place to go, and no one is surprised by the things they do over there. They’re very tough to make deals with across the board. They’ve always been an outlier in that sense. But no one feels, at least right now, that if they have a show at Netflix, or Amazon or Peacock for that matter, that things are gonna get shot and never air.”
One recently departed WBD executive likened it to an “extreme version” of what used to happen on broadcast TV, when a net would quickly pull the plug on a freshman show if its ratings tanked as early as week two or three. “By that time, they were probably in the middle of the sixth or seventh episode of a 13-episode order,” remembers the exec, who likens the current write-downs to a much-needed market correction. “There was this kind of drunken sailor effect of throwing money at content to win the streaming wars. That was the Netflix way of doing things and everybody followed suit, just throwing money irrationally at content. This is clearly a reaction to that.”
But this so-called one-time “right sizing” could be extended in the coming months if the threat of writers strike becomes real. Since the 2007-08 picket line gave networks an easy excuse to ax (low-rated) shows like Journeyman (NBC), Cashmere Mafia (ABC) and Girlfriends (CW), it seems all but certain that more shows — particularly those that have yet to air — could find themselves suddenly homeless.
“A writers’ strike potentially increases the number of shows canceled before they air,” said one Big Three top exec. “Let’s say a network produces two episodes of a show and they don’t particularly like it and there’s a writers’ strike, fuck it, why bring it back? I can see that happening a lot over the next few months.”
Added a showrunner of a hit streaming series, “There are too many shows so it’s inevitable that if platforms can get a tax write-off or any money back from a show that they don’t love, they’ll absolutely cancel it.”
Peter White contributed to this report.
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