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October 06 2004

Millions of viewers get 'Lost'. "No phones, no lights, no motor cars, just good ratings." Article also makes a note of the huge difference in ratings between this show and Buffy and Angel.

I've added a wee bit to your subject line about the difference in ratings between Lost and Buffy and Angel. Whilst it's interesting to see what happens when a major network backs a genre show to the hilt, I always thought there was a difference between UPN and WB's approach to their Mutant Enemy shows.

As far as I can see, the WB always thought of Angel as its bastard child which only got mentioned when critics attacked the quality of the WB line up. Perhaps, a case of "Hey look Joss Whedon writes for us but heck we can't be arsed promoting it". UPN, on the other hand, did make an attempt to promote Buffy in season 6 i.e. "Hey we've got Buffy now - see we're not just a wrestling network". But then in season 7 gave up with a feeling of embarrassment i.e. "Crap, it's not getting the ratings we thought it would".

Also we have to factor in the budget these two lesser networks (in comparison to NBC, CBS and ABC) have when promoting their shows.

Here's some questions of which I'd like to see my fellow posters thoughts on.

Would Buffy and Angel have got higher ratings on the likes of ABC or NBC? Would these shows have been compromised as a result of being on a major network? Or does the clout that J.J. Abrams has make this argument redundant?
Hmm, on one hand, if ABC and NBC have more viewers total then it would seem that Buffy and Angel would probably have gotten more viewers.

On the other hand, maybe Buffy and Angel wouldn't have survived on those networks because of a different culture at those organizations.

It's not a definitive yes or no, but I'd say probably. Unfortunately quality isn't always directly proportional with popularity.
Thank you for the add on, Simon. Though I believe BtVS and AtS would have received higher ratings on a major network, I don't think they would have been high enough to be considered successful. I doubt either show would complete an entire season. Genre shows tend to do poorly on major networks as well. Most viewers would disregard these "silly shows about vampires" as children's shows. We know fully well you must watch Buffy to 'get' Buffy. IMO, both shows would've been cancelled before they even had a chance to shine.

A strong argument can be made whether a well known name, such as J.J. Abrams, can pull in enough viewers long enough for a successful launch of a new show. I do believe this is the case with 'Lost'. I doubt ratings would've been this high if it had an unknown showrunner. And this is directly related to the amount of promotion a network is willing to invest. ABC was jumping through hoops to get Abram on their team. Once they did, they shouted it out to the world and gave him full support. And it appears that ABC has succeeded. Would the same have been possible with BtVS or AtS? IMO, I have to say no. First, they have to buy into the concept of the genre. Here again, we would get "Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Er...we get back to you". So, all of these elements must line up for a successful show.
Good thoughts, Simon and good questions for such an early hour of the morning. What are you on? ;)

I don't know if Buffy or Angel would have gotten higher ratings on a bigger network because I'm having a difficult time even imagining any of the bigger networks taking a risk of that caliber on one of Joss's wilder concepts. I mean, FOX couldn't even be bothered to show Firefly in the correct order or promote it with any kind of consistency even though they courted Joss to do it, and it's not nearly as radical a premise for a series that AtS and BtVS were (in my opinion, anyway). It's doubtful that either Angel or Buffy would have come about at all if it hadn't been for the desperation of the then-tiny and struggling WB; they had nothing to lose, really, in the TV stakes by trying to attract the younger demos everyone else was overlooking, and much to gain if they succeeded. The strategy paid off, at least in the short term, but then as we initially-hooked viewers grew older, they forgot about us and focused to exclusion on the coming-uppers nipping at our generational heels. Hence, we find ourselves currently Jossless on the small screen, and they are now scrambling, out of a foggily realized retrospective necessity, to add dramas with 'adult' appeal to their aging teen lineup.

Putting aside for the moment the argument I made above about the unlikelihood of a JW show flourishing on a larger network, I'd also have to say that yes, if AtS or BtVS had somehow miraculously survived the brutal TV punch-out of early fall to find a steady audience, I don't think either one would be the shows we've come to know and love. I can't say what the changes might have been, exactly -- maybe more name actors in the starring roles, or more commercially skewing storylines, or less emphasis on the science fiction/supernatural elements... Conceivably, Angel might have remained a MoTW-type detective show, with fangs, but I fear much of its creative bite would have been diminished. And as for Buffy? She paved the way for Alias's Sydney Bristow, and might have met with a better reception simply for the higher hot-chick quotient. Again, though, I think network censors would have balked at some of Joss's more adventurous turns in the tale (especially certain elements in the Spike/Buffy S6/S7 sexual relationship), and tried to tame her with a steady boyfriend who bore a more respectable resemblence to typical teen and young adult dynamics. And they certainly wouldn't have let her sleep with Angel before she was 18* (more likely raising her age a year) without making sure to slam everyone over the head with large anvils during the episode that it was a very bad, BAD, BAD Thing for Her to Do. (Angel's punishment would have stayed the same, I imagine, except they would have forced them to overtly use a condom. I recall that being a sore point back at the time 'Surprise' and 'Innocence' first aired, the 'vampires shoot blanks' statement notwithstanding.)

Not to say they necessarily wouldn't have been both intelligent and genre-busting if they'd made it on one of the larger networks. They would have, but they also would have made to be more accessible to mainstream America -- maybe a bit like Lost, actually. And they wouldn't have been as quirky, funny, original or gut-wrenchingly intense. It's those extreme highs and lows that sucked me in from the beginning, and I'd miss that if they were diluted to suit a more conservative (meaning less creative) network purview.

All things considered, I think I prefer what we got.

(*Just imagine what Dr. Laura would have to say about that. Ooh, lookie. Someone's already gone there..!)

[ edited by Wiseblood on 2004-10-06 10:31 ]
1st point I'd like to bring up is, I'm not convinced JJ Abrams is a bigger name than Joss, I mean Joss is an Oscar/Emmy nominated writer and neither Alias nor Felicity had ratings as good as Lost.

2nd point is I seem to recall reading somewhere that Buffy actually got more viewers over here than it did in the US, mainly because it was on one of the major channels (bbc2, ok not one of the big two, and they did cut it quite badly at times but still...) so I'd like to think that being on a major network in the US would've gotten it better ratings. Not that I'm kidding myself that it would ever have attracted 18 million, though I never thought Lost would do half that well either.

Just my two cents worth. (look I can speak American :) )
I think Lost is as successful as it is because not only does it appeal to the Buffy/Angel genre-TV crowd, in it for the mystery and the sci-fi elements and whatnot, but because it also appeals to the ER watchers. Over 35's tend to dismiss a show like Buffy as silly teen monster nonsense, but a show from ER is more centered in reality with more believable characters. Or at least, that's what you'd think from, you know, reading the names of the show... Regardless, Lost has, simply in the synopsis and adverts, all the opportunity for horrror to snag the genrelites, and all the elements of obvious melodrama and character development to appear to the ER-watchers.

It has that high-concept thing, basically, which snags everyones interest in a mere few lines of description. Whereas the high-concepts behind most shows (if they have one) only snag a particular type of viewer, even if the end result may really appeal to many more people than ever give it a chance.
If you promote a good show good, it helps in the ratings, and WB never did that, so yes, if Fox, ABC backed Buffy/Angel, it would of been even more successful, but syndication is where they'll get popular now. And of cource DVDs.

[ edited by SeanValen on 2004-10-06 15:34 ]
At the time, I don't think any of the major networks like ABC would have kept a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the air the way a smaller network like the WB did. However, I think Joss Whedon has proven himself now. All three of his shows (BtVS, AtS, Firefly) were critically acclaimed and have cult followings. So, I'm thinking that if he were interested in doing a new genre series, the fact "Lost" is doing well could help convince one of the major networks to take him on and support him. One of my biggest complaints with the WB is that they didn't really advertise Angel. If a network with a big budget got behind one of Joss' shows I think we'd see a substantial increase in the ratings.

Also, I just wanted to point out that there are a lot of "over 35's" who watch both Buffy and Angel. I don't think its a matter of age. In fact, the WB thought Angel didn't really appeal to the young demographic that they were trying to reach. At least that was one of their excuses. So, the predilections of the older viewing audience hasn't proven to be a factor.

Rather than being a matter of age, I think its a matter of taste. Sci Fi/Fantasy simply doesn't appeal to certain people and it needs to be marketed in a way so that it comes across as being more than just a show about monsters. Buffy and Angel were more about the human condition and the struggles that we face than it ever had to do with monsters. Once people realize that there's something in the story that speaks to them they'll watch. If the marketing reflected that about the shows I think it would bring in viewers who aren't traditionally a part of the Sci Fi viewing public.
I haven't watched Alias, so JJ Abrams wasn't a particularly familiar name. I watched the first episode of Lost, and, while I enjoyed it, I didn't feel I had to see the second half of the pilot (until the reaired it). It's interesting, but the main character (Matthew Fox) is too much of a know-it-all, and that gets annoying!

There's no real humor, either; despite the dire straits that Buffy/Angel et. al. were in, there was always humor—a reference, a funny line, something! Lost is on tonight, and I'm not waiting breathlessly, as I did with Buffy and Angel. Sigh.

Of course, I'm going to watch it: it's called "Tabula Rasa" (somehow I think it won't be quite the same as Buffy's "Tabula Rasa"!) and Nick Tate, who was on Space: 1999, is guesting.

[ edited by Gaudior on 2004-10-06 18:15 ]

[ edited by Gaudior on 2004-10-06 18:16 ]
My feeling is that Lost, while so far a really fun tv show, is not even close to Whedon's creations in terms of unique, thought-provoking, genre-bending brilliance. Lost is doing well because it is fun and interesting and well done and exciting and has cool mysteries to solve and there's decent character development and hey, it kinda evokes Survivor! And ABC promoted the hell out of it. And as someone pointed out, Lost, while mysterious and science fictiony, is "realer" for the ER-watching crowd than the Whedon shows. (Although as fantastical as the Whedon shows were, their emotional set pieces and arcs were as real as real gets.)

But Lost, as good as it is, still exists entirely within the realm of comfortable, standard tv. It's good or even great standard tv, but standard nonetheless. No major boundaries are being crossed. Hence it can sell so well.

I'm not trying to slam J.J. Abrams by elevating Whedon far above him. Abrams is one of the best auteurs on tv, probably. I just think he a more "standard" product. A very good product, but not a ground-breaking product. I can't imagine Lost (or Alias) going to the heights of The Body or Restless or Once More With Feeling or The Gift or Hush or Smile Time or gosh, so many other episodes. I'm not sure that the major networks today could deal with the kind of risk-taking that allowing Joss to do his thing would entail. "Restless" on ABC? Not bloody likely. More risks used to be taken on the major networks - Twin Peaks, anyone? - but nowadays I think this more expansive creative view has shrunk. It's about insta-great ratings.

So, no, I don't think what we know of as Buffy or Angel would have flourished on the big networks. In order to be allowed to survive, I think they'd be different and not nearly as memorable and ground-breaking. They did well as cult series on small networks because their superficial plotlines appealed to teenyboppers and their depths appealed to anyone who got past the superficial, teenybopper and octogenarian alike.
Such excellent questions towards the room, Simon. I had to ponder awhile whether Buffy or Angel would've been compromised if they had aired on a major network. I must say yes with one notable exception.

First, the cast. I believe a major network would've been uncomfortable with a total cast of relatively unknown actors. They would've wanted one or two stars whom they felt would be familiar to their viewers. Not only to draw a larger audience, but to also be used to promote the new series. The same can be said with the WB, but as a fledgling network, their expectations were much lower. They would be pleased to have such stars as SMG, AH, and ASH. The WB was still establishing themselves to gain an audience. Now, what impact would this have had on BtVS or AtS with one or two well known stars? A major network would want most of the action to revolve around those stars. And being an established network with several options (I get to that next), they would have the power to force the show in this direction. I can't think of anything more devastating had this occurred to BtVS or AtS. One of the strongest points these shows had was how well Joss balanced the actions and interactions between all the characters. We cared as much about what was happening between Willow and Xander as we did about Buffy. About Fred and Wes as well as Angel. One of the biggest gripes I hear about season 7 of BtVS is not enough interaction between the core four. And it's true. They started to focus too much on Buffy, Spike, and the potentials while neglecting Willow, Giles, ect. We felt the loss of these characters. Now, try to imagine if the shows were always this way from the beginning. I'll pass, thank you.

Second, survival of shows on said network. I covered some of this in my earlier comment posted above. So I'll only cover why BtVS and AtS could only had existed on a "netlet" such as WB. Remember, Buffy almost didn't happen. The WB passed it over at the start of the season for '7th Heaven'. It was only when the WB needed a mid season replacement when they decided to give it a chance. That delay was a blessing for BtVS because it allowed the show to prove itself with minimal interference from the network. The 12 shows were already shot "in the can" and were aired so. It was only towards the end of the first season when the WB realized they had a possible hit in their hands and they ordered another season. The rest is history. Buffy took off like a rocket and the WB decided maybe this Joss Whedon guy knew a thing or two. The success of Buffy prompt them to give AtS a go ahead. My point is, can you see the above scenario happening with a larger network? I don't. Buffy's faith would have been judged by its pilot. And with a greater number of shows to fall back on, I doubt we would even have heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Lastly, the exception. I really can't see any difference in censorship between the WB and the major networks IMO. As Joss stated several times, he was always bumping heads with the WB's censors particular during BtVS seasons 4 and 5. In fact, I believe this was one of the things UPN offered Joss to move to their network. Less censorship which led to the darker season 6 Joss wanted to tell. Guess this is all a matter of opinion, but the WB seems to fairly well match that of ABC, NBC, and CBS. FOX and UPN are a little more laid back depending on time slot. OK, I'll hush now.
"I doubt we would even have heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer." - Madhatter

Man that gives me chills. It also makes me wonder how many other wonderful, thought provoking, stereotype slashing shows we've missed out on because of short-sighted stupidity on the part of the networks.
I honestly can't see the sexual content of S6 on a major network. I've been burning my way through the series with a friend that's now hooked, we're on S6, and she keeps exclaiming, "They put that on television!" And frankly, I still think the same thing every time I watch it. I truly think those scenes would have been toned down. S6 was one of my favorites, for a bunch of intellectual reasons, along with, "Spike. Yum." I would hate to see that fiddled with and watered down.

Beyond that, I can see ratings being higher, but not high enough to sustain the show on one of the Big 3.
I think because the WB was new and was desperate for a hit, that they totally backed Buffy and promoted the show like crazy when it was a hit. They didn't have any other hit shows yet so Buffy was their darling. I don't know if BtVS would've received that kind of attention from a larger network with many shows to choose from. But, I think now that Joss Whedon has proven himself in TV Land with two successful shows and one that is being turned into a movie, he might get that type of promotion for one of his shows on a bigger network. Fox doesn't count to me because they have a history of having potentially great shows and then sticking them in crappy time slots and not promoting them enough. ABC seems to be willing to invest in newer shows. The first numbers for Lost were promising so intstead of settling for that, they reshow the pilot again so other people who may have missed it the first time but heard the promising reviews tune in for the second showing. Several of the cable stations have been doing that for sometime and it's a smart move. There's many times where I may miss the first episode of a show and then don't bother tuning in after that.

I think if BtVS had been shown on a bigger network and promoted properly, it could've succeeded quite well. I was in my early 30's when BtVS started and it was promoted as a teeny bopper show but it was so much more than that. But, I agree with Angela that if it had been on one of the top three episodes would they have been more picky about what was shown - I love the whole package and wouldn't have wanted anything to change.

I'm still hoping if there ever is a new Buffyverse or Joss Whedon television show that it goes to a network with a track record of substantial support, such as HBO, Showtime or FX. I'm happy with ABC for it's promoting of Lost and Desperate Housewives (which I also liked) but I'm still burnt over the cancellation of Miracles awhile back. That was a show that wasn't promoted and was pre-empted several times in it's short run.

Another thing that I find very interesting is that JJ Abram's show, Alias, isn't as big a hit as his new one but I think a lot of people tuned in because they've heard of him and Alias. Alias has gotten a lot of attention in the media and a lot of people probably don't watch because they haven't started from the beginning but because of all the hype for Alias, they've tuned into this new show. I really think that could happen with a new Whedon show if it is as highly promoted as Lost was. Whether you've watched BtVS, Angel or Firefly, I'm sure people have heard of him and with Serenity coming this Spring, even more people will know who he is.
“More risks used to be taken on the major networks - Twin Peaks, anyone? - but nowadays I think this more expansive creative view has shrunk. It's about insta-great ratings.”

I can’t remember the exact quote, but Joss Whedon said something about the networks wanting a series to ‘open big’ like a movie. I think “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” were promoted so heavily because ABC needs a big hit series or two. Am I alone in thinking there a tiny glimmer of hope that they are getting behind two SCRIPTED shows with ACTORS instead of looking for the next “Apprentice” or “Survivor”?
On the other end of the promotion scale, I didn’t know about “Veronica Mars” until the day before it aired and only because it was mentioned here. I think the blurb before the episode of how it “could be the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer” shows UPN may have called Buffy “other network’s scraps” but they realize it was probably the only thing they had to offer. I see another glimmer of hope that last night’s episode was a repeat because they assumed viewers may tune in to the vice-presidential debate. Does that mean they don’t want the VM audience to get lost and are giving the show half a chance?
On the documentary that's included in the extras of the season six DVDs, Gail Berman talks about how she and Joss Whedon shopped BtVS around to all the networks, meeting with nothing but rolled up eyes except at the WB. It never could have happened anywhere else, according to both of them. It maybe could only have happened at that time, too, shortly after the launch of the WB when they were trying anything to compete on their uneven playing field. The big three at that time were still fairly complacent, having not yet lost the ground to cable that they have since. No reason for them to experiment.

That said, if for no reason I can think of one of the big networks had aired Buffy and Angel, they would have gotten better ratings as a matter of course. WB and UPN still don't air in a lot of markets, and have nowhere near the marketing resources.

bloodflowers, I also hope the programming decision on Veronica Mars last night means UPN cares. It also makes me a little hopeful that it's being executive produced by Joel Silver with no apparent creative input from him. Clout but not compromise.
Just wanted to say that there's a discussion thread now at Whedonesque chat for those of you who want to discuss tonight's episode of Lost.
As mentioned before, BtVS and Angel aired here on Sky One as one of their premire, flagship, shows and while Sky One isn't in every house in the UK they have, I believe, been accepted as a 'major'. And I also remember Buffy getting the highest rating on BBC2 on at least one occasion.

I think it's all down to first impressions. If Buffy had been aired on a major network, and promoted, it would have been accepted as a major show. Once it aired on The WB is became typecast as a niche show.

I have read that Joss fought hard to keep the name when the network wanted to call it 'Slayer'. While I agree that the name sets the tone of the show and the contrast between the slayer and the cheerleader I believe it would have been better to have had a name that wouldn't put people off, let them watch and THEN decide whether they get the show.
Our UK friends do make a point...Had BtVS or AtS been aired on a major network there would have been an undoubtable increase in weekly viewership...From a high of 5.6 million viewers on the WB I could see AtS garnering at least 8.0 million on a network such as ABC or CBS (none of Joss' shows could ever work on NBC). What begs to be answered is why do show like AtS and BtVS sell so well in the DVD market when compared to "normal" network shows? AtS season four is still in the top 40 sales on Amazon.com. For a month now I have been attempting to find the market share/sales for Buffy and Angel DVD boxed sets but unfortunately the information is not available to the general public...I am convinced that the sales of DVD's are comming extremely close to the marketing revenue that these shows generated when they were first aired...So this poses another question: If they create at least as much revenue as normal advertising would, why not use the direct-to-dvd format?
I don't particularly know if Angel/Buffy could make it on ABC. Buffy in particular had in my opinion a fairly weak and obviously low-budget first season.

Compare "Welcome to the Hellmouth" with the 12 million dollar 2 hour pilot for Lost.

Not to mention that Lost is going to come off as more accessible, you have the character drama, the whole castaway survivor thing and a fun little action/horror plot.

Buffy just doesn't seem to have as much depth and intelligence to a casual observer (which of course is ludicrous, as good as I thought the pilot for Lost was, Buffy blows it out of the water.

With that said, major credit to J.J. Abrams for creating what looks to be a very good, original series which is probably not going to be cancelled any time soon.
Simon thank you for setting that up for us. I'll be visiting later tonight. Its only 4:14 pm here right now. I'm actually looking forward to seeing it. Haven't felt that way since AtS.
I have read that Joss fought hard to keep the name when the network wanted to call it 'Slayer'. While I agree that the name sets the tone of the show and the contrast between the slayer and the cheerleader I believe it would have been better to have had a name that wouldn't put people off, let them watch and THEN decide whether they get the show.

See, that's the thing. Joss wanted 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' because it was a perfect encapsulation of everything the show was about. To him, caving on the name was unacceptable. It would have been compromise before he'd even begun. He's pretty clearly stated in the past that someone who would dismiss the idea of watching BtVS simply based on the "silliness" of its title isn't the kind of person he wants watching the show in the first place. It's his world, his terms, and you either get it or you don't. There's plenty of networks and showrunners out there making crap because they play to people's lowest level of expectations, and they're terrified of taking risks. Joss lives on the razor edge of risk. He expects more of his audience -- he gives them credit for intelligence! -- and more from himself, and that's why he's making TV for the rest of us.

Sure, that sounds uncompromising. And it's not as if JW hasn't bent before when the occasion has demanded it, but overall he's stayed true to his vision as much as an artist can in his chosen arena of endeavor. I admire him for sticking to his principles; as a result, we got genre brilliance. Anything less wouldn't have satisfied him, and we would be the poorer for it.
I don't particularly know if Angel/Buffy could make it on ABC. Buffy in particular had in my opinion a fairly weak and obviously low-budget first season.
Compare "Welcome to the Hellmouth" with the 12 million dollar 2 hour pilot for Lost.


But surely if Buffy was made to air on ABC then it would've had a much bigger budget as well and therefore it's not really fair to compare. Just look at the Firefly pilot, because it was on Fox that had a much bigger budget than Buffy or Angel and subsequently looked fantastic (of course that didn't help, neither did the fantastic script nor brilliant acting, roll on Serenity!)
With the TV landscape dominated by "reality show" crap, viewers are starving for fresh "scripted TV shows".Wade through the cesspool of "Trading spouses"/ Reality shows,and the multi-redundant versions of CSI and Law and Order,and its no wonder "Lost" draws big audience numbers!We are starving for new ideas.BTW? anybody else notice the WB ads for its Wednesday nite line up popping up on the TNT Angel re-runs in the afternoon? Part of me is pissed,but the other part is amused at the thought of The WB crawling back to its fan base,begging.

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