The news I was dreading

Published July 16, 2008

Out of the Blue has been axed. Well, that’s out of the blue. Ha. Sorry, couldn’t resist. If the numbers in that story are to be believed, chances are you won’t have even heard of this programme, and now you probably never will. But I want to take a closer look at what happened, because it makes for an interesting story.

The problem

Here is how to systematically undermine a programme’s chances, à la the BBC.

  1. Commission a new Australian drama to fill the Neighbours-shaped hole in your BBC1 schedule.
  2. Debut new show with very little publicity and marketing, particularly to the right target audience.
  3. After only three weeks, decide it’s not getting enough viewers, and shift it to BBC2.
  4. Fiddle with the times, and reduce showings from five a week, to four.
  5. Take a two week break for Wimbledon, but get the timing wrong and extend to a three week break.
  6. Decommission show.

Viewing experience

I really like Out of the Blue, even though it is about the cheesiest soap you could ever find. It appeals to me because it’s too dramatic to be taken seriously, but the mystery keeps you coming back. It’s both laughable and intriguing at the same time. It’s not that bad, but I can see why it would struggle initially.

I watch religiously via the iPlayer, sometimes downloading a few to watch in one go, and sometimes watching them on the day they are released. The shows always end on a good hook, so I’m never thinking that I will just miss one and catch up in future episodes. I often go to the website hoping for new things to look at but there is rarely anything.

The climate

The problem is that if a show doesn’t hit a viewing target within a ridiculously short space of time, then it is immediately pulled. ITV have been guilty of this many times in the past, often leaving viewers frustrated. The BBC have said they’re going to play out this series until the end, but with only about 40 shows of 130 aired so far, it’s looking less and less likely that Out of the Blue will survive.

It’s fair to say that 80,000 viewers is not enough to keep an expensive imported drama on our channels, but did the BBC really give it a chance? A real soap drama should take longer than three weeks to catch hold. It should be allowed some time to breathe, to find it’s audience, and settle into it’s schedule. Ever heard of Word of Mouth? It’s that thing that happens when you give something a chance.

Surely by making it so necessary for a programme to be an instant hit, the BBC (and ITV previously) are just making it harder for new and ground-breaking shows to be made, let alone aired. Some of the best cult viewing comes out of an initial viewership of the select few. Some of the best mainstream viewing would never have been recommissioned if judged by today’s standards.

I know that we, as a population, have much lower attention spans than in previous decades, and there are a lot more pastimes competing with the TV, but it’s not like they don’t have the channel space, is it? Get rid of that repeat of The Weakest Link and put on a good bit of storytelling instead.

Three random questions

  • As an iPlayer viewer, am I counted in the 80,000?
  • Does added interactivity online make a TV show more popular?
  • If they do pull it early, will I ever find out whodunit?
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