Read it on Salon
Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Time Warner Cable Inc. CEO Glenn Britt has offered to end a four-day blackout of CBS stations in three major cities, saying the cable operator would allow CBS to sell its stations’ signal “a la carte” to consumers instead of bundling it with other channels.
That would “allow customers to decide for themselves how much value they ascribe to CBS programming,” Britt said in a letter to CBS CEO Leslie Moonves that was released to the media.
CBS Corp. called the proposal a “sham.”
“Anyone familiar with the entertainment business knows that the economics and structure of the cable industry doesn’t work that way and isn’t likely to for quite some time,” it said.
CBS signals have been blacked out to some 3 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas since Friday in a dispute over how much the cable operator has to pay for CBS programming. Britt’s proposal is a radical departure from how TV is sold today — in packages that can contain a hundred or more channels, many of which consumers don’t watch.
Craig Moffett, an industry analyst with Moffett Research LLC, called the proposal “mostly a bit of theater” that CBS would never accept.
“CBS would never agree to a model where customers could opt to take it or leave it,” he said. “The economics of that would never be as attractive as the current model, where everyone has to pay whether they want the service or not.”
Investors seemed to shrug at the proposal. Time Warner Cable shares slipped 68 cents or half a percent to finish at $116.42. CBS shares dipped 67 cents, a little more than 1 percent, to close at $53.86 Monday.
TV station owners like CBS want to boost revenue and profit from the fees they charge to distributors — and many industry observers see this as their prime engine of growth in the coming years. But pay TV distributors say they’re trying to keep costs low to hang onto subscribers sick of paying higher monthly bills. Retransmission fees paid by cable, satellite and telecommunications providers are set to double by 2018 to $6 billion, according to research firm SNL Kagan.
The fee fights have become common in recent years. Most have been resolved within a few weeks. However, the American Television Alliance (ATVA), a grouping of pay TV distributors, says there are now a record 79 U.S. markets being affected by blackouts. Besides the Time Warner Cable dispute with CBS, starting on Thursday some Dish Network Corp. subscribers lost access to some ABC, NBC and Fox affiliate stations owned by Raycom Media Inc. in 36 markets in 15 states from Florida to Hawaii.
Tens of thousands of DirecTV subscribers lost access to a local CBS station in Odessa, Texas, on Thursday. Five other blackouts are ongoing, including one between Cox Communications and Mt. Baker Cable in Seattle that has lingered since Jan. 1, 2012, according to the ATVA.
The basis for all of the disputes is the 1992 Cable Act, which allows TV station owners to either force pay TV operators to carry their signals for free, or bargain for carriage at whatever rates they can extract in negotiations. Since then, leverage in such negotiations has shifted dramatically in favor of the content owners, who can demand higher fees or pull their signal. Cable TV operators have usually been forced to pay higher rates or risk losing subscribers to satellite TV companies, a shift that has been happening for years.
But the situation has gotten so dire that DirecTV, which in the past has seen competitor blackouts as a way to steal subscribers, rallied to Time Warner Cable’s defense in a statement on Saturday, saying “all pay TV customers are feeling trapped and helpless” by “ridiculous” rate increase demands.
The longer the fight goes on, the greater the chance that Congress gets involved to balance the playing field, said Rich Greenfield, a media and technology analyst with BTIG Research. “Having the government poking their nose into the situation could be decidedly bad for CBS,” he said.
Legislation isn’t pending, but lawmakers and lobbyists are considering folding new retransmission rules into a bill required to renew the license of satellite TV operators DirecTV and Dish by the end of 2014. Hearings on the matter are likely to start up around late September, according to ATVA spokesman Brian Frederick. “Our video laws need updating now more than ever,” he said.
Consumer outrage over the blackout has been similar to past disputes, according to Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Maureen Huff.
The company has been offering pro-rated rebates to the some 2.5 million Time Warner Cable subscribers who pay extra for CBS-owned Showtime, which has also been blacked out during the fight. For the time being, the cable operator has replaced CBS with programming from Starz Kids and Family.
With so many blackouts at so many different TV operators, including the satellite players, switching providers might not help.
“People understand increasingly that switching is not the answer,” said Time Warner Cable’s Huff. “If you switch to another provider, they’re going to face the same situation the next time they’re up with CBS.”
Customers could be getting desensitized to blackouts because they occur so frequently.
And the level of outrage might be muted because the fight is occurring during the summer, when networks don’t debut many new shows.
Besides CBS’s new hit, “Under the Dome,” which it premiered in June thanks to a special arrangement for exclusive online access on Amazon.com, subscribers only missed new episodes Sunday night of Showtime’s “Dexter,” in its eighth and final season, as well as “Ray Donovan,” a Showtime series that began in June.
That’s not the same as missing an NFL regular season football game, or even a preseason game, which won’t air on CBS until Aug. 23.
“Viewers are outside in the sun,” said Laura Martin, a media industry analyst with investment bank Needham & Co. “If CBS was in the middle of its prime-time schedule, they would be much more annoyed.”
But the wide array of online viewing options is not an effective substitute for the programs that CBS offers, especially its live sports offerings, including golf, Martin and other industry observers said.
Acknowledging the greater number of viewers who watch TV shows online, CBS took the unusual move of blocking video access on its apps and website to people who get their Internet service from Time Warner Cable, including those who get TV packages from other providers. Even though millions of Time Warner Cable subscribers couldn’t see Tiger Woods claim his eighth victory at the Firestone Country Club on Sunday, industry watchers said that wasn’t as important as NFL football, which has its first regular season games on CBS on Sept. 8.
It’s unlikely that Time Warner Cable will drag out the dispute that long, said analyst Moffett.
“The closer we get to football season, the more the leverage shifts to CBS,” Moffett said. “Once the football season begins, it’s game set and match in CBS’s favor.”
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.
Read it on Salon