Is Castle really trying to stay on the air?
Observers could be forgiven for wondering, given that the show just fired its female lead, Stana Katic. Series built on the relationship between two characters rarely fare well after one of the two principles exits.
To be sure, Castle faces some challenges. In its eighth season, ratings are down significantly. For much of the season, the show seemed like a poor bet to return for another year. But the show more or less held steady in its spring run, while the average rating for ABC’s scripted programming fell off sharply. That gave the show a somewhat better chance of renewal. Producers and ABC clearly want to reduce costs if the show is to come back.
But is showing Katic the door the kind of budget reduction that makes sense? Castle has thrived on the interplay between Katic’s smart cop Kate Beckett and roguish novelist Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion). Fillion is a popular leading man, but will the show’s audience really tune in to see Rick’s adventures without Kate? That’s presuming a deal can be struck with Fillion, who’s not currently signed for a ninth season.
Katic’s firing is a vivid demonstration of the bizarre state of network television. ABC, the network, is deriving diminishing returns from airing new episodes of Castle. To justify bringing the show back, it needs the show to lower costs.
On the other hand, ABC Studios, the network’s production sibling, makes a nice profit on the “afterlife” of Castle. Episodes generate solid income via syndication, streaming and foreign sales. If this feels like some kind of accounting shell game to you, you’re not far off.
The network and production company are both parts of the same enterprise. Overall, that enterprise is making money from Castle. It’s only the need to show certain results for one division that drives this need for cutting costs. ABC, as a whole, could afford to keep Katic on the show. But it’s apparently unwilling to use profits from syndication/streaming to keep her. Instead, the budget for new episodes must be covered by the licensing fee paid by the network to its studio sibling.
It makes little sense. In a rapidly evolving television landscape, ABC is torturing its operations to fit into a production/distribution model engineered in the early days of the industry that bears little relevance to current conditions. The divide between the production and distribution arms of not only ABC but all the broadcast networks and their affiliated production studios has become increasingly ludicrous.
As the industry developed and eventually put studios and networks under the same corporate parent, the landscape changed. The majority of programs on most networks are produced in-house. That affects decision-making and changes incentives. Corporate pressure will ensure that a network keeps a show produced by its studio sibling on the air if at all possible. The good of the greater organization trumps.
So it makes little sense for Castle to part ways with Katic. Removing a key element that’s made a series popular isn’t a recipe for success. While it’s had its dark moments, Castle is a mostly light-hearted procedural. Will fans really want to tune in to see Rick without Kate? How will that even work? If the show kills off Kate, then widower Rick can’t be the same fun character going forward. That kind of loss would have a deep impact. Other options (Kate’s in a coma; Kate’s in prison; Kate’s missing) hold the narrative hostage to that unresolved plot contrivance.
If ABC isn’t willing to use the profits that its distribution arm reaps to keep both stars in the fold, it should just let Castle end.
But more pressingly, this is the perfect example of how companies in the television business need to change how they look at their businesses. The increasingly tortured divisions between production and distribution feel like a relic of the past.
In the end, it’s the fans of Castle that suffer from ABC’s inability to embrace necessary, and inevitable, change.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 19, 2016.