It was in October 2011 that Channel 5 agreed a rich deal with Warner Bros. International Television Distribution for TNT’s Dallas, which was less a reboot and more of a sequel to the classic 1970s series of the same name.
It was one of the biggest commitments a UK broadcaster had given to a prime-time U.S. drama in recent memory and it was done in large part to ensure that C5 would land the show, which was being pursued by every major UK broadcaster after Warner Bros unveiled the show to international buyers in LA that May.
Initially the move appeared to have paid off, with Channel 5 having not only landed a brand defining show that had the potential to run and run, but a bonafide ratings hit with the series premiere drawing in 2.9 million viewers and a 13% share, up some 90% on the slot average, with ratings remaining consistently strong across the first season.
When Dallas returned for its second season, however, ratings flopped with audiences dropping from the season one average of 3 million viewers to 800K viewers for the season two premiere (at the time C5 insiders attributed the decline to the untimely death of Larry Hagman, which had resulted in diminished interest from viewers).
Due to the ratings flop, Channel 5 moved the show to a late-night 11pm slot and though they were contractually obligated to air the third season, it never returned to prime-time and was instead moved to midnight. By all accounts C5 was largely burned by the Dallas deal, with the ratings flop resulting, in large part, in a nearly £20 million programming write down in the first nine months of 2014.
The collapse of Dallas was something no one saw coming, either at Channel 5, studio Warner Bros. or US network TNT. “In this business everything is a learning curve and Dallas seemed like a no-brainer to us given its popularity in the past in the UK”, Marie-Claire Dunlop, Acquisitions and Channel Manager for Channel 5 recently told TVWise.
But given the failure of Dallas, are any such high-profile pre-emptive life-of-series deals off the table in the future? In short, no, assuming it was for the right show. “Obviously committing to life-of-series is one hell of a risk and we’d have to feel very secure and confident in the show; that it was going to be one of those returnable hits”, Dunlop added.
In fact, I hear that Channel 5 has already struck another such agreement. Sources suggest that the deal between Channel 5 and international distributor CBS Studios International for new CSI entry CSI: Cyber is another life-of-series agreement and given the popularity of the franchise, arguably a far safer bet than Dallas was several years ago.