Is Pop TV Getting Out of the Scripted TV Business?

Nik Wallenda Survived ‘Volcano Live’ But ABC Didn’t in Ratings Disaster

Getty

Is Pop TV Getting Out of the Scripted TV Business?

ViacomCBS network left with only the retiring “Schitt’s Creek” and “One Day at a Time” after cutting a trio of series

Pop TV’s cupboard looks awfully bare after the ViacomCBS-owned network slashed three shows from its roster. It could be a signal of a shift away from scripted content, as the newly-combined company looks to pull more of its resources together.

On Wednesday, the network abruptly canceled three of its series, including the Anna Paquin-led “Flack” just 10 days before it was set to return for its second season. Additionally, the network pulled the plug on “Florida Girls,” which had been renewed for a second season last fall, and its upcoming “Best Intentions.” Those shows will be shopped elsewhere, with ViacomCBS helping them find new platforms.

Representatives for Pop TV declined to comment further on the network’s plans going forward.

The decision comes as the network is saying goodbye to its first original series, “Schitt’s Creek,” which after years of being a cult hit has now become an actual success story, even bagging a few Emmy nominations last year, and a favorite to get more this summer. Before “Schitt’s Creek” ends, Pop will debut the fourth season of the critically-adored “One Day at a Time,” which it rescued from Netflix, and still has the Rachel Bloom-led “Mother Mary” pilot still in development.

Though “One Day at a Time” is from Sony, the three shows Pop scrapped all had one thing in common: They were all produced by outside studios. Bloom’s “Mother Mary” is from CBS TV Studios, which gives it a stronger chance of making it to air. And that’s really what this is about for ViacomCBS, which is increasingly focused on its own IP.

“Our content strategy isn’t about spending more,” ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish explained during the company’s first earnings call last month as a combined company,  “It’s about better aligning the combined company spending with growth potential and maximizing the value of our content, IP and franchises across our now larger asset base.”

ViacomCBS is, like all its media competitors, investing heavier into streaming. CBS All Access, which was built on the back of CBS-owned IP like “Star Trek” and “The Good Wife,” is getting reworked to become a true player alongside Netflix and Disney.

We’ll wait to see the ratings for “One Day at a Time.” Netflix’s decision to cancel the show after three seasons was widely-criticized, mostly because we never knew what kind of viewership it had. This will be the first time we’ll be able to put a hard number on how many people are actually watching this update to Norman Lear’ 1970s-era sitcom. That makes “One Day at a Time” a special case: Not only was Pop hailed for rescuing the series from the TV grim reaper, but the fervor around the series should carry  over to a strong (for Pop) Nielsen rating.

But if this week’s news does signal that Pop is getting out of the scripted content game, it would join a long list of basic cable networks that have waved the white flag in the Peak TV era.

It wouldn’t even be the first ViacomCBS network to do so, with MTV, VH1 and CMT having all more or less shut down their scripted content outputs. TV Land is down to one original scripted with “Younger,” though that series is likely nearing the end of its run, heading into its seventh season (and that show was nearly moved over to Paramount Network, before a last-minute reversal). One thing all of those networks have in common: They’re all in the same Entertainment & Youth Brands group that is run by Chris McCarthy. The same group that Pop was just moved under, which has already resulted in staff layoffs.

Pop is on the smaller side of cable networks in terms of distribution, available in around 70 million homes. That puts its more on the same scale as Sundance or Oxygen, vs. more established networks like AMC or FX. Bakish and the Viacom team inherited Pop from last year’s merger with CBS. CBS acquired a 50% stake in the channel from Lionsgate in 2013 when it was still TV Guide Channel, and renamed it TVGN. In 2015, the network was rebranded as Pop TV. CBS bought out Lionsgate’s half last year.

But Pop fans shouldn’t be wary that the channel will go the way of The Esquire Network or Pivot, at least not yet. Brad Schwartz is still running things and a ViacomCBS insider tells TheWrap the channel remains an important asset to the company and described the content plans as “evolving.” When TheWrap caught up with Schwartz during the Television Critics Association press tour in January, he sounded optimistic of getting to play in the larger ViacomCBS sandbox, saying it “kind of opens us up to Paramount Studio, CBS Television Studio, the libraries and IP of both of those networks.”

But we’ve seen this movie before. Going forward, it could be just as likely that ViacomCBS will center its scripted programming around its major broadcast network (CBS) and pay-cable channel (Showtime), and its two basic cable networks Paramount and BET.

Tim Baysinger