If you're a fan of AMC's “The Walking Dead,” it's no spoiler that in its 9th season, the series has lost some of its mojo. And now there are strong rumors the protagonist, Rick Grimes, will soon be written out of the show.
That's probably bad news for actor Andrew Lincoln (who plays Grimes), but apparently, many fans of the show are unhappy as well. A new poll in Reddit (actually it's a sub-Reddit) reveals 44% of surveytakers say they'll discontinue watching the show if/when Grimes goes away.
And we're talking about a hefty sample – 900 respondents – so, it would seem to have some level of reliability.
Except for the fact it's a hypothetical question. These “Walking Dead” fans perhaps can't imagine what the show would be like without Grimes. But you can bet the writers are already hatching some interesting plots.
Programmers, showrunners, and other content producers in radio, TV, and films deal with these star dilemmas all the time. The recent dismissal of Roseanne Barr from her eponymously named show may end up being the ultimate test case – if ABC opts to move forward on a new version of “Roseanne” – sans Roseanne.
But there's precedence here. In fact, some of the most potentially devastating departures haven't scuttled hit shows. Last week, we talked about The Kidd Kraddick Show, which survived the death of its iconic ringleader, and has gone on to remain a relevant and popular show, thanks to a great cast of personalities who have stepped up.
You may also recall the passing of Tom Magliozzi, one half of the iconic “Click & Clack” duo of zany mechanics on the NPR franchise show, “Car Talk.” Rather than replacing him, the producers found a way to re-purpose older shows to keep the show going, even though one of its stars was no longer broadcasting on this planet.
“The Bob & Tom Show” has carried on nicely since Bob Kevoian departed. Similarly, Wally Brine's retirement from WROR's “Loren & Wally Show” has allowed co-stars like Lauren Beckham Falcone to step up and shine.
And more recently, Eric Ferguson's ratings since his co-star left “The Eric & Kathy Show” on WTMX last year have been stellar. Yet, a research survey done in the heat of Kathy Hart's long “sabbatical” might have very likely predicted doom for the future of this morning radio fixture in Chicago.
Yet, Eric, Melissa McGurren, and Brian “Whip” Paruch are pulling in ratings, despite the breakup of a show that led Chicago for years in both Arbitron and Nielsen ratings. Here's radio critic Robert Feder's take from just a few days ago: “Eric In The Morning Reigns Supreme”
And on television, we've seen big stars leave, dire predictions made, and yet somehow, the ratings maintained, and in some cases actually grew. McLean Stevenson left “MAS*H” (replaced by the better actor, Harry Morgan), Shelley Long departed from “Cheers” (replaced by Kirstie Alley), and “Bewitched” replaced the show's husband, Darrin, with a different actor named Darrin. (In real life, the twow actos were ironically both named Dick – Dick York and Dick Sargent.) None of these shows missed a beat, and some might argue they actually improved.
The audience knows what they know. But when you're programming a radio station, TV series, or film, you have a lot more insight than the average fan. Institutional knowledge, familiarity with talent and who's really doing what, and knowing where the bodies are buried are all assets insiders have.
If you look at the media franchises that have survived the departure of a big star, chances are good you'll find secondary players stepping up and a programmer behind the scenes pulling the strings and managing the transition. And that's a reminder to stations, companies, and syndicators reliant on a single star or personality that it's critical to nurture and work with the show's co-stars and B players. Having a succession plan in place in the event something tragic happens should be another key part of the plan.
The audience will always give you their “take,” but ultimately, it's you and your team that can avoid a ratings blowout.
Or even a zombie apocalypse.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.