Sunday, June 17

Rolling Clovers: The Black Donnellys

When I first wrote about Jericho being cancelled (at the urging of my wife and company team members), it was because they proved to me with pre-post research that CBS had a crisis in the making. (One of the things we do here is help people facing a crisis communication situation.)

The Black Donnellys doesn't really seem to have that element for NBC. It's not very clear the fans can bring the show back (though someone spiked Wikipedia with a rumored return). And it's not even clear that the fan base is a mile deep in clover as Jericho was with nuts (but they are good people). So why write about it?

Well, I've been turning it over for a few days and decided it provides an interesting contrast to the Jericho story while links to the fan dissatisfaction over the The Sopranos ending. I'll get to that in a minute, but need to drop in a quick backgrounder for those who have no idea what I'm talking about.

The Black Donnellys only aired on NBC from Feb. 26 to April 2 before it was "demoted" to an Internet series (one day, very soon, such a move will not be a demotion) over poor ratings. It was replaced by the Real Wedding Crashers, which convinced me why I needed a DVR (so I don't have to rely on network lineups). The net result was that Donnellys was officially cancelled.

There seems to be little doubt that the Donnellys failed because of its marketing. Thinking back, I never really got that it was about an Irish crime family pitted up against Italian mobsters in Hell's Kitchen.

Unlike Jericho fans, Donnellys fans seem most interested in lobbying HBO to pick up the show than convincing NBC to reconsider. Sure, they have a petition for NBC, but HBO is the target of shamrocks, quarters, and crackers.

What makes this interesting is because while Jericho fans did make an appeal to TNT, they mostly focused on CBS (and only picked one primary item to send beyond postcards and letters). So while anything is possible, I think moving a show from one network to another seems very daunting, perhaps even more so than resurrection.

Why it would work for HBO. HBO is better suited for a crime family story than a prime time network because there are fewer restrictions on the grit. HBO also just wrapped The Sopranos, whose viewers could potentially be converted from Italian to Irish family fans (and maybe even quell fan anger over The Sopranos ending, especially if they found a way to link the shows for some crossover). And then, of course, there is an existing loyal Donnellys fan base, which isn't bad considering the show didn't have a full season.

Why it wouldn't work for HBO. HBO is all about original programming. Of all the networks, it seems the least likely to pick up someone else's marketing miss. The idea that The Sopranos fans could be converted might backfire, making it even worse for the network (not to mention, the Donnellys would forever be compared to the predecessor). And, most importantly, one has to wonder how long a show can be wrapped before a revival is impossible beyond a made-for-television reunion movie.

To me, the best bet for the fan base is to keep doing what they are doing. Promote the series at NBC online, which has a great streaming setup with limited commercials. And, drive the numbers up on the HDNet reruns. While I’m a big fan of intermixing qualified research with quantified research, most networks are still about numbers (and playcating critics). Go Irish!

In closing, let me remind everyone that it won’t be long before there is nothing to distinguish digital media from traditional television. When that happens, and it will, there will be more changes than anyone imagined. I’m confident programming and the measure of it will only get better while giving independents a leg up.



Sweet Tea on 6/17/07, 9:36 AM said...

Hi Rich,
Another great article. TBD fans are a great group and I feel for them after seeing Jericho canceled. I know there are a lot of fan campaigns & they may not all be effective but I think it's fantastic that people are getting together to make their voices heard. The networks will hear us. Maybe they'll soon get away from some of these boring reality series.
After winning the first battle of Jericho I do believe anything is possible.
Thank you for the most valuable information on any blog today.

steffi320 on 6/17/07, 9:38 AM said...

Thanks so much for writing this article. It means a lot to us TBD fans. We know it's going to be tough to get TBD picked up by another network but we want our voices heard and TBD given a fair chance to survive since it wasn't given one at NBC. We all just really think this show has potential of becoming a hit for whatever network it is on. Us, Firecrackers, aren't giving up anytime soon! Thanks!

Rich on 6/17/07, 9:39 AM said...

Famous Missing Words:

As soon as I mentioned the rumor on Wikipedia and the post went up, it was taken down. Sorry to anyone who went to look, but it was there when I linked it.

There is a new additon though that includes one of my points: "God Is a Comedian Playing to an Audience Afraid to Laugh" was only available online due to network concerns over content.

Rich on 6/17/07, 9:44 AM said...

Hey JS! Right on. Some reality television is okay ... most have missed the mark lately, partly do to attempting to script some of it. The Pirate trial was was painful to watch. You are right though, networks will be listening more and more. If they don't, they won't last more than three years. Bank on it.

Hey Steffi, the pleasure was all mine. You made a great case on the site and you never know ... you may be only, um, let's say, 12-24 months ahead of the curve where you won't be able to tell the difference between digital and traditional. And that mean more niche programming. TBD (thank you for the right abbrev.) fans might have a chance in that world.

All my best, Rich

Unknown on 6/17/07, 10:01 AM said...

Hi Rich,

I just wanted to join in with everyone to thank you for this article. You really did hit the tooth on the nail. With internet only content and digital media blurring with network television, you have to wonder how inaccurate Nielsen Ratings are used as a tool to attract advertisers who support any series. NBC and other networks are fighting and competing with things like YouTube.

I, myself, feel as though networks, especially NBC (don't let me go on about their #4 ranking amongst networks and their juggling act of network executives) are wasting lots of financial resources by shuffling in new shows and shuffling out new shows.

We are targeting HBO for those reasons that you have written about. The reason why we stopped contacting NBC is because they weren't responsive. And it's become difficult to raise the support that we once had, because of NBC message board censorships. A lot of us have been suspended with our threads deleted because NBC is not allowing anything "save The Black Donnellys" to be posted. I think it's strange that they aren't proud that their is such a huge support for this cancelled series and continue to alienate their viewers.

I do hope that our efforts to bring back The Black Donnellys will lead as an example for all series as Jericho has done.

Erin on 6/17/07, 12:25 PM said...

Hi Rich,

Thank you so much for mentioning TBD. Since April fans have been emailing, calling and sending letters to NBC. A petition was created and currently has over 36,000 signatures. Unfortunately these pleas were completely ignored by NBC. After NBC officially cancelled TBD the fans realized that the only way to bring our show back is to get another channel interested. Hopefully someone will take notice and give The Black Donnellys a second season.

paigec71 on 6/17/07, 7:46 PM said...

Hi Rich,

Thank you for the article about The Black Donnellys. It really is a great show!

Why did we choose a different network to target? As you know, NBC took TBD off the air after 5 episodes and placed the show on the internet for our viewing pleasure and then the fun started. NBC would forget to upload the episodes, did not even respond to anything we wrote and then began deleting our threads without any warning. What is so upsetting about this is that many, many fans spent a lot of time placing information on the boards (i.e. media contact information, daily tasks, sample letters, etc), all to be erased after all the work they had done. Now we not only have to recreate the wheel but we can’t even place a topic directing fans to our campaign website without the thread being instantly deleted and our account being suspended. Isn’t that odd? I am a rule abiding citizen (except when I speed to work in the mornings..maybe I am not law abiding after all....) and can understand deleting threads if they “break” the board rules and if they are offensive, but it seems like it has become a little more personal. This show may not be for NBC and that is fine, but why sabotage everything we are trying to do?

I agree with your HBO points. We thought HBO would be the best target especially since The Soprano’s were in the season finale. Soprano fans and HBO might not want to see a mob drama replacement, who knows?

My question is…, what are the real chances this great show will get picked up by another network? If we target HBO and not FX, would FX still consider picking up the show?? What about Paul Haggis? He sat on this for 10 years. Will he let it die that easily?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great article on the Save TBD campaign. As you indicated, one of the things the successful Jericho campaign had going for it besides the common theme was the ability to target the network on which the show first aired. Even though TBD's content and quality programming are more often found on premium cable channels like HBO or Showtime, TBD fans did campaign to keep the show on NBC in spite of some of the censored content. NBC told the fans to stream the episodes online and buy Itunes in order to save TBD and we did. While we've been unable to determine what amount of streaming that has been done (I imagine a great deal), we do know that each episode of TBD was in the top 10 most downloaded TV episodes and the season pass was consistently in the top 25 as well. This was the case even though TBD was competing with other shows that were on television every week. Unfortunately, NBC didn't pay any attention to these positive numbers or the amount of activity on its TBD forum. In fact, since the last episode was shown online, the TBD forum moderators have consistently deleted any posts related to the Save TBD campaign or other fan websites and recently fans were informed that the deletions were due to the fact that NBC didn't want all of the posts about saving the show on the forum and had instructed the moderators to "keep it cleaned up." In addition, many of the active members have been suspended for posting messages related to the campaign. (I doubt NBC's advertisers would be happy if they knew about these tactics.) In any event, these are some of the reasons that we've decided to focus the Save TBD campaign on HBO and not NBC. In addition, Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco knew long ago that TBD belonged on a channel like HBO. Unfortunately, at the time they made their pitch to HBO, HBO had just picked up the Sopranos. With the Sopranos ending, it would be the perfect time for HBO to introduce the Donnelly brothers to their viewers. Of course, the trick is not to present TBD as the Irish version of the Sopranos. The shows share the same genre but are different shows. However, there are enough similarities that I would encourage anyone who enjoyed the Sopranos to watch a few episodes of The Black Donnellys.

Snakelady78 on 6/17/07, 11:19 PM said...

NBC is a lost cause. That's why Black Donnellys fans have turned away from that Network. They have consistently ignored every effort the fans have made to let them know what a great show they had. NBC execs deleted emails and berated the fans for sending them. Claiming that these emails from the fans were somehow harassing them. They have done nothing but complain about the fans(regardless of outstanding Itunes sales) support. The truth is all NBC cares about is money and the way to get that is to have cheap shows. TBD was an awesome show but too expensive for the poor and apparently broke network. NBC is no more they should officially change their name to "El cheapo".
This show needs to go to a quality network like HBO, or possibly it could work on FX. It's much too good to be forgotten.

Rich on 6/18/07, 6:39 AM said...

Thanks for all the comments; they all lend well to the discussion and filled in a few missing pieces.

Just a couple points of clarification on my part. I didn't say targeting HBO was the wrong choice per se as much as I considered a few pros and cons for the network. I do agree that there seems to be less interest from NBC to do anything though the fact that they left up the TBD site (with the episodes linked from their front page) can only be a good thing.

Thus, the suggestion to watch streaming episodes and HDNet reruns (and more importantly, encourage others to watch them) is to demonstrate continued interest in the show. If not for NBC, then certainly for another network in much the same way DVD sales and high rerun ratings saved The Family Guy (though cartoons are easier to contract).

All my best, Rich


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