Few TV Shows Survive a Ruthless Proving Ground

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Among the red carpets, celebrity appearances and musical performances, the upfronts almost resemble the Emmy Awards, television’s annual self-congratulatory awards show. Except that the upfronts lack “In Memoriam,” the period of mourning for the industry’s losses the year before. This week at the network presentations for advertisers, there will be no mention of “The Playboy Club,” “The Finder” or “The River.” Or “A Gifted Man,” “How to Be a Gentleman” or “Man Up!” Or the other network television shows — over a dozen and counting — that were announced with great fanfare at the same presentations last year and have been canceled since then.

The failure rate for network television rarely changes — only the names of the shows do. For most people in the television industry, it’s perfectly normal for hundreds of scripts to be pared down each season, “Survivor” style, to just one or two hit shows. These people rarely stop and wonder if there’s a better way of doing business. But to others, this creative slaughter is stupefying. “The most confounding thing about the TV business is the amount of waste,” said Noah Hawley, who created “The Unusuals,” which ABC canceled in 2009, and “My Generation,” which ABC canceled in 2010. There must be, he said, a better way to develop and nurture new shows.


Few TV Shows Survive a Ruthless Proving Ground