Last November, Grant McCracken wrote about long tails and fat middles, the discussion of the rise of indy films alongside the distribution of blockbusters, including the peril of being in the middle. He quoted what is called "the death valley problem":
Wyatt writes, "The quick cancellation of 'Smith' elucidates how television, like the movie industry, has become a business where there is little room for modest success. Network executives might endlessly talk about how, in an era where the attention of audiences is ever more scattered, new shows need time to find themselves. But those same executives are often quick to pull the plug on an expensive production that does not immediately perform to expectations."
Game audiences currently do not have the luxury of finding itself ready for new products. All or nothing. and with people like Mark Rein shrugging off episodic content how will the middle ground fair for the games audiences?
Wyatt goes into the details of Smith, falling into this middle ground of less expensive niche programming and high-production blockbusters. The rest of the episodes that have already been filmed are going to be distributed online, along with a synopsis explaining what would have happened in the rest of the season.
The "death of the middle" strategy is straight forward. It says, spend massively to guarantee hits at the top, and fund lots of little films to fill niches (and find sleepers) at the bottom. The middling films, the DOM stategy says, are too small for marketing muscle and too big to connect to anyone.
But what are we assuming here? We're assuming that the block busters are manufacturable, that the studios can manage their way to sensational numbers. Really? It looks like Disney came this close to refusing the essential ingredient of this summer's blockbuster. (Is he drunk? Is he gay? Please. It's called acting.) Were it not for Depp's refusal to rework his foppish Jack, this block buster might well have been a middle weight, and no block buster at all.
I wonder if it isn't time for Hollywood to get chunkier. Maybe the real opportunities lie in the middle ground. A chunky approach to marketing says go for the sweet spot, the place with money enough to hire real talent, and enough freedom to set them free. (Freeish.) There has to be a habitable space between the deeply eccentric, entirely self indulgent freedoms of the indie and the "fear of falling" rigidities that understandably beset the studio when spending $160 million.
In this case, what is said about Hollywood makes sense for television as well, and one has to wonder, as show after show falls off network lineups this fall, which of them could have gone on to be major successes in the long-term. But, until there is a monetized way to value the shows that take the middle ground, and until there is more economic incentive on the network's part to care about the success of shows long-term, then would-be fans of Smith and many other shows will have to just keep guessing what might have been.