The process of selling American TV series to foreign networks, similar to mechanisms behind cancellations and renewals within US networks, is full of oddities and decisions beyond comprehension of viewers like you and me. Sometimes it looks like failure of some titles to break outside of US might be due to very poor distributor or underwhelming performance from sales team. Lifetime or Starz – for example – have extremely bad luck selling anything in UK, with barely any titles filtering through for years now. Other series seem to attract bids from “mickey mouse” fringe networks without long-term commitment guarantees or any kind of viewership that would warrant handing over broadcast rights. In both cases, it’s the viewers that suffer. We live in digital age, if viewers can not find interesting titles on their screens, they reach for alternative means, and end up watching grey zone downloads, from which there is rarely any point of return. So – distributors – do you freaking job, and UK networks, stop screwing around. Below is a list of last season titles that are either unknown in Britain or UK viewers can not find them on their silver screens anymore:
When ABC announced action packed TV series with Ashley Judd, pre-emptive acquisitions around the world started almost immediately. 10 episodes of the high budget, big names show about retired CIA operative chasing kidnappers of her only son across several continents and countries aired in US between March and May 2012, and almost immediately the show was syndicated across 24 countries worldwide, from Russia, through Philippines all the way to Brazil. But when in May 2012, after leaving the plot open-ended for season two, ABC heavy handedly chopped “Missing” together with “Pan Am”, “The River” and few other high budget titles from its schedule, taught by the previous expensive lessons, UK networks hit the brakes and the show never found a home on British Isles. “Missing” was not my cup of tea, I felt it was too “nineties” and over the top, but there is no denying that it is well put together, well casted and solid family/teenage entertainment. It is a shame it was not shown in UK. It is even bigger shame season two was cancelled.
4. “Magic City”
Starz had so much confidence in their 1950ies Miami period drama about hotelier pairing with mob boss to ensure survival of his glitzy establishment that they renewed “Magic City” for the second season whole ten days before pilot episode even aired. Personally, I liked “Magic City” a lot, but the mid season slot proven unlucky for the show – critical reception was a little mixed and the series did not reach the audience numbers it deserved in US. It only received few scarce Emmy nominations this year, mostly going to background staff, despite absolutely stellar and award worthy performances from both leading and supporting actors throughout entire first season. But in the same time the show is doing very well elsewhere in Europe, and it was acquired among other networks, by continental arm of HBO, so it is a bit of surprise that no network in UK decided to offer this show an hour in its schedule, considering that unlike most of the junk doing rounds in acquisition catalogues, “Magic City” has at least two solid seasons guaranteed right from the start.
Another Starz entry. We all had mixed feeling when it was announced that “Frasier”‘s Kelsey Grammer was finally leaving sitcom world behind to star in political thriller “Boss”, but from the very first episode of this drama about corrupt mayor with degenerative neurological disorder and his cronies ruling Chicago with strong arm and tight fist I was absolutely glued to the story and even more so to Grammer’s Golden Globe awarded performance. And yet the show, now broadcasting second season in US, still found no network interested in bringing at least 17 weeks of solid thrill and entertainment to UK audience. How bizarre.
As the Emmy and Golden Globe awarded exploits of self destructive novelist Hank Moody in the dazzling world of Los Angeles rich and famous enter sixth year of production in US, the show is abandoned, homeless and chucked back into acquisition bin after just four seasons on British shores. The main reason for this state of affairs is the network. Channel 5 bought “Californication” from CBS Paramount TV for UK distribution in May 2007, three months before the show aired in US. But everything points to the purchase being more of a cock block decision, made purely so other networks couldn’t acquire Showtime catalogue, rather than true commitment. Broadcast in UK started in October 2007, as US run of season one was about to end. The show then spent five frustrating years bouncing between time slots and Channel 5’s low-grade, niche, part-time digital spin-off channels before network announcing in August 2012 that they have no intention of purchasing season five for continuation and thus “Californication” remains with no broadcaster in UK.
1. “Breaking Bad”
It is hard to believe, but AMC’s multi awarded hit TV show “Breaking Bad” currently has no distributor in United Kingdom and only aired two seasons to date before being pulled despite critical acclaim and internet buzz. The culprit in this case is a bit of bad luck and wrong network choices. The “cooking” adventures of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were first imported to UK by FX channel in late 2008, approximately 9 months after US première. It is slightly ironic turn of events, since the parent FX network in US passed on the original show pitch in 2007 and “Breaking Bad” was picked by AMC instead. FX UK began broadcasting seven episode long first season of the show end of September 2008 in Sunday 10pm slot. Combination of badly chosen slot and pay TV politics meant that first season attracted only 140,000 viewers. FX never picked season two. Instead a year later, season one and two were rescued from acquisition bin by Five USA. For those of you outside of UK – Five USA is spin off/re-broadcast digital channel of low budget analogue terrestrial broadcaster Channel 5. It is a horrible, low bandwidth, standard definition affair, that is lost far up the terrestrial and digital satellite channel numbers and only operates on part time basis for about six to seven hours a day. And once again “Breaking Bad” was slotted in a dead zone – Tuesday at 11pm for season one re-broadcast, from October 2009 onwards. To confuse matters even more, Five USA then decided to air all thirteen episodes of season two as machine gun fire daily installations, starting December 19 at 11pm and then every night at midnight, across entire Christmas, with final two episodes scheduled on New Years Eve and New Years Day at midnight. This effectively was the end of any viewer numbers – the chances of someone watching TV series about meth production until 1am on Boxing Day or during New Years festivities was slim to none. Five USA never signed continuation, series three never arrived on British shore and to this day “Breaking Bad” has no distributor. The show that deserved best slot on BBC, ended up as one of the most popular illegally downloaded US shows in Great Britain out of pure lack of any other distribution channel.
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