Men of a Certain Age won’t be back

for a third season, alas.  It was one of my favorites, but apparently I was in the minority.  Men got good reviews, but not enough viewers, even for the relatively undemanding made-for-cable environment.  I suspect the staff knew they were on the bubble, because the season finale left the three lead characters in open but hopeful situations.

A spoiler warning is probably unnecessary, since no one was watching.  Terry (played by the always charming Scott Bakula), the commitment-phobic failed actor, the Peter Pan of the trio, after proving that he could make a living selling cars, finally made that scary commitment to Erin, a woman who understood him well enough to give him a year to take another shot at show business.  Owen (played by Andre Braugher, who has just been nominated for an Emmy for the part), saddled with a toxic, manipulative father and a social-climbing mother, had grown into a strong and competent businessman, thanks to his loving and supportive wife.  And Joe (Ray Romano, who created the show), the divorced owner of a party store, fighting a gambling addiction and dreaming of being a professional golfer, found himself with a shot at qualifying for the senior golf circuit, thanks to a little luck and an unexpected rainstorm.

If you are one of those millions of people who weren’t watching, consider catching up with Men of a Certain Age on DVD.  There are no explosions or car chases, no gun shots, although I seem to remember a couple of fist fights, no zombies or vampires or alien invasions.  Just three men, long-time friends approaching fifty, surrounded by family, friends, and all the problems of ordinary life.

The show was cancelled, as so many are, because not enough people were watching, and therefore not enough sponsors were willing to pay enough for ads to pay for the show.  Strictly economics.   It started its run with about 3.2 million viewers, and ended with about 1.6 million.  That’s not a lot of people in a country with something on the order of 115 million television households.

But it sure sounds like a lot of people to a writer.  1.6 million is an astounding number of people, far beyond the dreams of any sane novelist.  Ten percent  of that would be beyond the dreams of most of us.  Of course the economics of the two industries run on entirely different scales.  Scripted television shows cost astronomical amounts of money, paying for actors, writers, directors, producers (what do all those people actually produce?) and a long list of production costs.

Books, on the other hand, are paid for with sweat, tears, and chocolate, and mostly with their authors’ time, hard to put a price on any of those (well, maybe the chocolate).  Of course there are direct costs for manufacture and distribution, less for digital books, overhead to keep the publisher going, and so forth.  And admittedly any author whose sales were down by half would be considering some strategic changes.

Television and publishing are apples and oranges, different markets, different economies, different scales.  Americans spend far more time watching TV than reading books.  Even a niche market TV show must appeal to a much broader audience than any individual book.

That’s a good thing for writers.  We don’t expect or need two million readers to survive.  We can get by with a small but steady audience, even more so, perhaps, in the digital age.

But now I think I’ll go climb into bed with a paper book. And turn the radio on.

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