With The Unit Likely To Be Canceled, Employees Are Philosophical

Categories: Broadcast TV

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May 10th, 2009

A story in today's LA Times gives some details about the personal lives of a few of the 225 people that work on The Unit, CBS's second worst performing drama this season, and a show that will almost certainly be canceled at the end of this season. I don't wish that anyone lose their job, and I hope these folks bounce back quickly if (and likely when) the show is canceled, but the article makes it clear that they recognize the risks in the industry, and they're a bit philosophical about it.

Michael Stecher, who has worked in Hollywood for 18 years, sees himself as high royalty in an unenviable kingdom. The El Segundo father of two has been fired so many times that he refers to himself as "The King of Canceled TV Shows." Twice he received pink slips at lunch.

"People don't realize how fast it can change," said Stecher, who has been let go five times. Now he's a camera operator for CBS' military action drama "The Unit." "There is zero security in this gig."

Still, the show has been on the air for four years, which is cited multiple times in the article as a relatively long run.

Executive producer Vahan Moosekian is as familiar with these employment ups and downs as anyone. His four years on "The Unit" is his longest stint on any show during his 33 years in the industry, stability he knows could easily be followed by years of unemployment. With the rise of reality TV and NBC's new 10 p.m. Jay Leno comedy show, there are fewer jobs in scripted television.

Some numbers were provided, none of those that we can compare to other shows are really very good for its future prospects. The ones on income demographics are interesting, but since we have nothing to compare them to, aren't useful for prediction.

"The Unit," which ended production April 7, has been on the bubble every season since its launch. The David Mamet-created drama registers 9 million to 11 million viewers, as it has throughout its run. That's a respectable figure, but only a third of those are younger than 49, a demographic that CBS needs to court. The drama also picks up 1.4 million viewers each week from DVR use.

"The Unit" audience, which has a median age of 54.6, still has some appeal to advertisers: 25% of its viewers have graduated from college, 35% earn income above $75,000, and 21% make $100,000 or more, according to Nielsen data provided by CBS.

And I think the article deals very fairly with the subject, it's certainly not a "save our show" PR piece. It's hopeful, but in a resigned sort of way.

There is no science to the method executives use to select programs, but there are many variables. Ratings, especially time-slot performance, are a key element. Which company owns the show matters too. More and more, networks are sticking with shows made by their own companies rather than one produced by another studio. That way there's more money to be made from syndication, overseas showings and digital sales. "The Unit" isn't produced by CBS, but by 20th Century Fox Television, where executives have signaled a willingness to cut costs to keep the show going.

It's definitely fair to say there is no science in selecting new programs, but the method executives use to decide in keeping existing programs is a lot more like science.

The entire article is worth reading.

 
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