After cancellation on Fox, Mindy Kaling’s show joins a growing list that have moved from television to the web.
An old proverb says that when one door closes, another opens. In the case of television programming, when a network attempts to close the door on a show with less than stellar ratings but a loyal cult following, their web-based rivals often lay the welcome mat before their own. The latest example of this trend is news that The Mindy Project, a sitcom starring Mindy Kaling of The Office fame, will live on despite being canceled by Fox this month. Hulu, which already hosts reruns of the first three seasons of the show, has ordered a fourth. This recurring scenario also highlights an interesting paradox in the television industry: two very different perceptions of the same show. From The Mindy Project, to Community, to Arrested Development, it’s baffling to many that shows popular enough for new owners Hulu, Yahoo, and Netflix to see value in, suffered from such poor ratings that they were canceled by their former TV network homes.
Some network executives have pointed out that while these shows may live on, they never seem to achieve the same hype or popularity streaming that they did on network television. While they may see this as some kind of vindication of their decisions, the availability of the shows on demand rather than in a specific time slot is a large contributing factor. With a regularly scheduled air date, conversation about a show can peak shortly before or after an episode airs, as viewers tune in. After the move online, viewers can tune in whenever they want, so collective hype that used to be packed into a day or two ends up spread across weeks or months. A viewer can choose to watch one new episode a day, one a week, or binge watch a whole season in an afternoon.
At the end of the day, this paradox goes back to growing frustration with Nielsen ratings. These modern TV-watching phenomena like binge watching and online video-on-demand have long presented a challenge for the ratings firm. As Hulu likely observed with The Mindy Project, a show beset by low ratings can often be quite popular, with more viewers tuning in online or long after an episode originally airs. As streaming providers continue to scoop up popular series that were axed by the networks, one as to wonder how long the television industry in general can continue to rely on Nielsen ratings to make programming decisions.