FX explains why ‘Terriers’ was canceled
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TV executives don’t usually like to admit they’ve canceled a show. In fact, they go out of their way to avoid the issue by saying a show has been taken off the schedule, is on hiatus, or no decisions have been made.
On Monday, FX announced what fans of ‘Terriers’ expected but still dreaded: There will be no second season of the terrific buddy drama starring Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James.
But then something highly unusual happened. FX President John Landgraf held a conference call to explain to the press why he arrived at the ‘disappointing’ decision to cancel ‘Terriers.’ It was a thoughtful and detailed conversation that went way beyond the obvious -- that ‘Terriers,’ which averaged 509,000 viewers in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, was the network’s lowest-rated show ever.
‘I really appreciate the fans that showed up weekly for this show and poured their passion into it and sent thousands of e-mails to us. … And I think, in general, I’ve really tried to run this channel, this network, in a much more transparent way,’ Landgraf said, explaining why he made himself available to the press Monday. ‘It runs transparently internally. We’ve all been very open with the creative people that come to work here, and we’ve tried to be more transparent with the press.
‘The reality is that, even though nobody wants to dwell on it -- this is like batting in major league baseball,’ he said. ‘Nobody bats a thousand. There are creative successes that are commercial failures and commercial successes that are creative failures, and every once in a while you hit them both. And FX is confident enough in its overall track record that it’s OK. We open up the books, and we have an honest conversation about the times things don’t work. My estimation is that that’s better for everybody up to and including [the press] who don’t have to speculate about why we did something or didn’t do something else.’
So, how did Landgraf arrive at the decision?
After the show’s third episode aired, Landgraf ordered a poll of 600 people who had never seen promos for ‘Terriers’ and had never watched an episode. Many critics and TV writers, including this blog, have attributed the show’s low performance to its title and FX’s marketing campaign, which included outdoor ads that highlighted a mean dog more than it did the two stars of the show and may have confused people about what the show was really about. (There, in fact, was no mean dog on the show, but as creator Ted Griffin explained to the Los Angeles Times last week, he came up with the title because of the scrappy quality of the characters).
Of the 600, 200 were hard-core FX drama followers, 200 preferred USA/TNT dramas, and 200 liked light dramas and identified with no particular network. The audience ranked the promos, watched episodes and then ranked the promos again, and they agreed that they liked the episodes and the marketing represented the show well.
Those polled, Landgraf said, thought ‘Terriers’ was compatible with FX’s brand ‘but not similar to other FX shows. And to the extent that it was dissimilar — they found it to be a little less edgy, less sexy, less suspenseful. I think the things that were really wonderful about the show tended to be relatively subtle. It had a subtle charm that kind of crept into your psyche over time, and you got to like it more. I don’t know if subtlety is something the American public is buying in droves today.
‘When I look at ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘The Kardashians’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and ‘The Walking Dead,’ you know, we can go on and on and up to and including what is selling in the political space in America, I wouldn’t say that subtlety and nuance describes the most successful pop content in America today,’ he said. ‘If you want to know what it revealed, it revealed that those subtle charms took a little while to get a hold of people and that’s a hard thing to sell.’
For those who like hard numbers, here’s the hard truth FX was facing: ‘Terriers’ didn’t even come close in ratings to other dramas FX has canceled. In the primary telecast among 18-to-49-year-olds, ‘Dirt’ averaged about 1.6 million people, ‘The Riches’ averaged 1.4 million, ‘Over There’ garnered 1.3 million, and ‘Damages’ had 1.1. million viewers. ‘Terriers’ averaged 509,000 viewers.
Taking encores into account: ‘Dirt’ registered 3.7 million viewers, ‘The Riches’ had 3 million, ‘Over There’ had 2.9 million, and ‘Damages’ had 2.4 million. ‘Terriers’ averaged 1.6 million.
‘Those numbers are even significantly lower than many shows that we canceled after one season, like ‘Over There’ or ‘Dirt’ and ‘The Riches,’ which ultimately didn’t go the distance. You could have double the ratings and it would still be the lower-rated of all those,’ Landgraf said.
Landgraf half-joked that if he renewed the show, he would have changed the title to ‘Terriers, P.I.’ but said he really didn’t believe that changing the title and increasing marketing would do the trick. The billboards with the mean dogs, Landgraf said, only were displayed in Los Angeles and New York City.
‘If I legitimately believed that the reason the show didn’t succeed on our air was that we felt we failed to adequately describe to the audience what the show was about, that would have been reason alone to renew it,’ he said. ‘One of the reasons I spent a lot of money and had people spend a lot of time doing a postmortem analysis is because the question was: Was the marketing campaign fair to the show? There are plenty of people in Los Angeles who drove by various billboards and are always going to say ‘no,’ but the reality is they don’t understand the reality of how everyone else in America was presented this show. So from my standpoint, if we did market the show, how would I believe that putting the show on air would miraculously triple or quadruple ratings, which is what it would need to be to be successful?
‘I just couldn’t find any way from a business standpoint or quantitatively how to do a second season of the show,’ he said, ‘and that’s really unfortunate because I love it, but that’s the reality.’
It is indeed unfortunate for the small but loyal group of fans that fell in love with Hank (Logue) and Britt (Raymond-James) and were left wanting more.
Here’s one tidbit Griffin offered: At the end of the season (now series) finale, Hank and Britt went straight.
--Maria Elena Fernandez
Photos, from top: Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James in ‘Terriers.’ Credit: Mike Muller / FX. Logue and Raymond-James. Credit: Patrick McElhenney / FX
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