Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Thanks for Nothing -- ABC Takes "Titanic" Down to the Bottom Again, 100 Years After the Historic Sinking
When I said in a previous post that ABC's scheduling of the four-hour miniseries Titanic was "weird"...well, what I meant to say was that it was wrong. Just plain wrong. Clearly the network thought enough of the project over a year ago to sign on to co-produce and co-finance the Julian
"Downton Abbey" Fellowes-written television epic with Britain's ITV, Australia's Channel Seven and other international broadcasters, but they threw it away through bad scheduling. The way ABC handled Titanic was an epic fail, and they ended up squandering what should have been a successful programming stunt. How often do you get the chance to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the most catastrophic maritime disaster ever, one that has never left the hearts and minds of the world? How could ABC have taken that precious moment in time and essentially thrown it away?
To recap the results, ABC scheduled the first three hours of the four hour Titanic on Saturday night, with the final one hour held over to Sunday evening. ABC pulled in a 0.8 rating with just slightly over four million viewers for Saturday's three hours, and a 0.9 and about the same four million for Sunday's one hour conclusion. Compare that to what the hoary Easter movie perennial The Ten Commandments pulled in on Saturday, April 7th -- TTC got a 1.6 rating and pulled in almost seven million viewers for its airing from 7pm - 11:44pm. It's only taken 2000 years of Christianity to ensure ABC that kind of number; let's also not forget that it's an Easter tradition and viewers know exactly what they're getting. Presold to the max. Obviously viewers can be found on Saturday night, but it takes a religious experience to get them there.
On this 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic, ABC surely could have set aside one Sunday -- where they usually air America's Funniest Home Videos, Once Upon a Time and GCB -- and given Titanic a one night blow-out from 7pm - 11pm. Splitting the event over two nights, with an abandoned one hour conclusion all by itself on Sunday, stuck behind a repeat of OUaT, no less, was truly a scheduling snafu not befitting the awesome reputation of Titanic. In any case, if Titanic failed only one night would have been at stake; as it was ABC sunk two of their nights and blew a class production at the same time. In the U.S. we are used to stunt programming and this one begged to be stunted in a big way. (In Britain it ran -- from what I've been able to find -- one hour on two successive weeks then the last two hours on one night. Also not perfect. And in Canada it aired once a week for four weeks. Not good either.)
Some have said that the unique storytelling device -- essentially retelling the tale through different eyes over each hour, finally culminating in the sinking itself and finding out the fate of the various characters we've been introduced to -- is what doomed the show from the start. That's not much of an excuse; I'm sure a cable network audience would have been able to follow the story just fine. What happened to Titanic, a hundred years after her sinking, is that ABC possibly over-estimated the appeal and thought that viewers would find it on a dreary Saturday then seek it out on the next night to find out the rest of the story. Or else ABC was throwing it away because they didn't think the usual broadcast network TV audience would want to watch it anyway.
Can I say that this really belonged on PBS? Although the four-hours are available right now to watch on ABC's website (but not OnDemand, interestingly), if I were ABC I'd offer a run to PBS. This Titanic wouldn't exist without Julian Fellowes' huge highbrow success with Downton Abbey, here in the U.S. and all over the world, so PBS deserves a taste of it. The PBS audience would appreciate Titanic, even if the ABC audience didn't.