Favorite show cancelled before it got a chance to breathe? Wasn't always that way.

The Hollywood Sign is seen in Los Angeles, Calif.

We are on the brink of the fall TV season. Increasingly the networks are treating their new shows like contestants on a cutthroat reality show. If those first couple of episodes don’t get high ratings, series producers are told "You are dismissed!" But it wasn’t always like that.

Remember "Where’s Everett"? The show where Allen Alda finds an invisible alien baby on his doorstep? Or what sbout "Poochinski"?  That was the show where the cop is killed in the line of duty but then reincarnated as a streetwise bulldog.    

Those are real pilots that never got picked up. Still, networks used to air a lot of their pilots, even the terrible ones.

“They didn’t want to spend a million dollars on an hour of television and not get at least something out of it,” says veteran TV producer Lee Goldberg.

Today, networks can spend millions on a series and still cancel it after two or three episodes. Take the show "666 Park Avenue."  

“After a couple weeks it just was clear it wasn’t going to build the audience they were expecting and it’s gone,” says Chris Mills, who represents TV writers and directors at Magnet Management.  

Mills says networks still rely on the old fashioned Nielsen ratings that count who is watching shows on TV. However, the networks are starting to count DVR’d episodes, too.

The downside to canceling a series quickly is that shows that take time to find their audience don’t get a chance-- for example, shows like Mills’ favorite drama, "Friday Night Lights."

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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