A&E has taken the long view with their decision to cancel ‘Longmire’, while Warner Bros will likely do all they can to find the show a new home, says TVWise Editor Patrick Munn.
Last week, when A&E announced that they were pulling the plug on Longmire after three seasons and 33 episodes, observers across the industry scratched their collective heads. Especially when you consider that the show, starring Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff, was A&E’s highest rated scripted series, EVER.
The decision boils down to two key factors: ratings and shifting strategies at A&E.
Longmire, while still the network’s highest rated drama (in total viewers), did shed viewers in season 3. When looking at the ratings, it is also important to note that while it was pulling in an average of 4.6 million viewers, the show tended to skew older with an average 0.6 A18-49 demo rating, compared to the already-renewed Bates Motel and its average 0.9 A18-49 rating.
As was widely reported at the time, a shift behind the scenes at A&E is also understood to have been a major factor in the decision to cancel the Warner Horizon produced drama. That shift has two key elements.
Firstly, the network has been scaling back on scripted, once again pushing unscripted where they’ve had huge success with shows like Duck Dynasty and The Wahlburgers. This, sources say, is why A&E last year passed on Glen Morgan’s Occult, which is said to have been a “very strong” pilot. With Longmire not returning for a fourth season on A&E, the network’s drama slate has been reduced to one returning show: Bates Motel.
The second, and perhaps more important one, is that the network is looking to own more of their hit shows. They started down this road with the launch of A&E Studios last year. The desire to own content and, in turn, reap the benefits of additional revenue, through streaming and international rights, is not new, but a growing trend in the industry. For their part A&E Studios has one high profile scripted series in the works; The Returned, an adaptation of the French series, which has the potential to do well on the international market.
And while, at the time of the cancellation, a fair amount of emphasis was placed on A&E’s desire to own more of their shows, sources have suggested that this point was overstated. It was Longmire’s middling demo ratings that put it on the bubble and when that was coupled with the fact that all ancillary revenue for the show goes to producing studio Warner Bros, A&E decided to ax the series in favour of producing a potential hit drama down the road that they would OWN.
In the long term, A&E’s decision makes sense. In the short term, not so much. Scripted hits are hard to come by (a lesson they should have learned with the short-lived Those Who Kill) and there’s a real sense that they may be cutting of their nose to spite their face by sacrificing a strongly rating show in favour of a potential hit which may take years to cultivate and deliver.
Equally, Warner Bros’ (who produce through their cable division Warner Horizon Television) declaration that they would be seeking a new home for the show makes a lot of sense. In addition to the previously detailed decent ratings, the show has been a big seller (and thus revenue stream) for Warner Bros International Television Distribution, who recently inked a deal with TCM in the UK for the show’s third season. So they are expected to do all they can to keep the show going.
But does Longmire have any hopes of life without A&E? Since the cancellation a lot of rumour, speculation and guesswork has been published regarding potential suitors for the series. According to my sources at WB, short of A&E reversing course, there are really only two possibilities: TNT and Netflix.
There are a lot of hurdles to overcome before any deals could be reached at either, even though the cliff-hanger ending of season three begs for a continuation of some sort. I hear that a “soft approach” has been made at TNT, which has been “warmly received”. But the large number of returning shows on the network, a strong development slate and the pending departure of Michael Wright present some big issues to overcome if the show is to land at Warner Bros’ corporate sibling TNT.
As for Netflix, things are equally complicated. While Warner Bros is a major supplier for the streaming service, Longmire is not a title covered by their deals in several key territories, including the UK. Given the major Gotham deal announced this week, it comes as no surprise that the two parties have a strong working relationship and a source called Longmire landing there “possible”. But studios often pitch recently cancelled shows to Netflix, who rarely, if ever, bite. To date the only shows to swing a Netflix revival are Arrested Development and The Killing, both of which were strong players on the streaming service prior to Netflix ordering new runs.
Will Longmire rise again? It’s possible, but far from certain.