Fox was right to cancel 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' and the fans have no one to blame but themselves

Fox
  • Fans are crushed that Fox abruptly cancelled the beloved sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – but Fox did the right thing.
  • It’s really the fans’ fault the show has been cancelled because most don’t seem to watch “Nine-Nine” live with advertising.
  • The broadcast networks’ economic model still relies on selling ads on shows that deliver sizable live audiences. And fewer sitcoms like “Nine-Nine” seem able to draw live viewers.

Fox on Thursday cancelled “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the fans of the sitcom were immediately up in arms.

They shouldn’t be, because it’s their fault. As much as it hurts, Fox did the right thing.

Let me preface this buy saying I love “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” I laugh out loud at the show to the point that my wife gets very annoyed. I’m certain it has another couple of seasons in it.

But I never watch the show live. I’m betting most of the people mourning on social media don’t either. I really doubt Lin-Manuel Miranda does, despite his declared passion. The man is very busy.

Like most of us, Lin-Manuel probably watches the show on his DVR. Or maybe he watches on Hulu, or via Fox’s app on Roku or another connected TV device. He likely doesn’t watch it on Sunday night at 8:30 on Fox with the full commercial load.

That’s still how TV networks make the majority of their money. And they way “Nine-Nine” fans watch their show hurt its revenue cause.

I wouldn’t call “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” a “cult show” – it stars mainstream talents like “Saturday Night Live” alum Andy Sandberg as well as Terry Crews. But it’s not a broad-appealing, three-camera sitcom like the “The Big Bang Theory” either.

The quirky, slightly hipster show feels a lot closer to series like “30 Rock,” “The Office,” or “Parks and Recreation,” which seem to appeal to the kind of people who have largely abandoned scheduled TV on the big broadcast networks. Maybe some “Nine-Nine” fans watch “NCIS.” But the guess here is the Venn diagram doesn’t show a huge amount of crossover.

Case in point: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” averaged 2.7 million live viewers this season, down from 2.9 million last season, according to Entertainment Weekly. That’s not exactly a “broadcast” audience. Though what is these days?

So what’s Fox supposed to do? Shows don’t generally get bigger audiences in season six. Meanwhile, the network surely noticed that “Roseanne” made a stunning comeback on ABC this season, which is sparking the big networks to churn out more traditional sitcoms for next fall, hoping to capture the heartland while they still can. (You can bet if Ed O’Neill wasn’t tied up on “Modern Family,” Fox would be teeing up the “Married … With Children” reboot ASAP.)

In that context, it just might not make sense for the networks to make shows that appeal to the audience that loves shows like “Nine-Nine” anymore. Because us fans aren’t going to watch them when they air. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is great, but it’s not an “everyone’s going to be talking about this on Monday” kind of show like, say, “Westworld.”

And that simply doesn’t work for network TV’s economic model, which relies on running a full slate of pricey ads to the whole country in a timely fashion, not a handful of ads during a video-on-demand viewing session whenever you want (let alone zero ads when someone DVRs a show and skips all commercials).

As recently as 2105, “Parks and Recreation” was pulling in between 3 million and 4 million viewers each episode for NBC. And that was considered small at the time, and that series was always just squeaking by cancellation.

TV viewership has only gotten more dominated by streaming since.

There’s already talk that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” could be revived by Hulu or Netflix. That would be awesome, and make a ton of business sense. In fact, if the show were starting today, it would probably make more sense to launch on Hulu, which doesn’t need to reach millions of live viewers with its shows. The streaming platform has the luxury of using original shows to drive subscriptions, while also running a lighter number of ads during the episodes.

That’s likely the future of shows like “Nine-Nine.”

Until then, all of us fans screaming on social media have no one to blame but our time-shifting selves.

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