According to Variety, the estimated cost of a broadcast/cable half-hour ranges between $1.5 million to somewhere over $3 million per episode, with high-end cable and streaming dramas creeping up to $5-$7 million per episode. In the age of Peak TV and the continued fracturing of the television marketplace, one might assume that networks would be as cost efficient as possible, given that Live + Same Day ratings are (almost) uniformly down and non-linear measures are used to push a series toward profitability. However, costs have only risen in recent years as the amount of audience needed to sustain lavish productions simply is much rarer to achieve through live means.
Which is why the cancellation of Blood Drive by Syfy was such an interesting turn of events. The grindhouse thriller, a campy and goopy successor to Death Race 2000 that played like Wacky Races on acid, debuted this past summer to solid reviews and found itself with the type of loud (but small) cult audience that genre entertainment thrives on. Working in its favor was that it was fully owned by NBCUniversal (the same company that owns Syfy) and that its production budget was half of The Magicians, amounting to $1.4 million/episode, per a line in the show’s finale. However, Blood Drive became a victim of (another) network rebrand, with Syfy leaning even harder on pre-sold IP and pandering ads spouting genre references, and found itself without a home earlier this month.
But considering how expensive it is to get into the world of original scripted content, and how difficult it can be for networks dipping their toe into those waters to get buzz, something like Blood Drive can prove to be an asset for the right outlet. While shows being rescued from the cancellation grave still isn’t a common occurrence, there’s enough going on for Blood Drive financially and socially to make it a prime candidate for resurrection. So who would benefit the most from taking a chance on what might be the most distinct scripted show of the TV year?
El Rey Network
Pros: When looking strictly at the creative, easily the best place for Blood Drive would be El Rey Network, the digital channel founded by Grindhouse director Robert Rodriguez in 2013. Not only would Rodriguez find appreciation for and know how to market the only grindhouse scripted series on air, not only would he identify with the guerilla production methods that made Blood Drive what it is, he would be able to garner mainstream buzz for El Rey through the acquisition of a cost effective, on-brand scripted series that the network hasn’t gotten in a while. Billing itself as the home of unfiltered, kick-ass entertainment, El Rey, with its combination of Mexican wrestling Lucha Underground and syndicated properties Freddy’s Nightmares, Tales from the Crypt, and The Twilight Zone, is right in line with the Blood Drive ethos and would give the show a chance to exist without the Nielsens breathing down its neck.
Cons: Although Blood Drive would be the only active scripted series on the network, which would help it stand out and give it enough marketing resources to thrive, there’s the matter of whether El Rey even wants scripted right now. Matador was cancelled in November 2014 after failing to garner enough international interest, while From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is stuck in a strange limbo where the cast is released from their contracts but a formal cancellation hasn’t been handed down. With a number of networks backing down from scripted content (e.g. A&E, MTV) and nothing scripted in the works at El Rey since From Dusk Till Dawn was put on ice, the network could very well content itself with reality/unscripted programming and acquired content, especially since it’s as yet unclear what their original content budget is and whether Blood Drive‘s majorly discounted price-tag is that big of a deal.
Pros: Financially, the best move for Blood Drive is probably Hulu, which is owned in part by NBCUniversal, the same company that owns Universal Cable Productions – the company that produces Blood Drive. One thing that gets lost when fans try to rally for shows to be resurrected is that it’s much easier to move money within the same corporate umbrella than it is to move money from across umbrellas, so even if Blood Drive‘s lack of expense (which is compounded by the fact that they could return only one series regular) and engaged fan base are assets to all suitors, the easiest moves are still within the NBCUniversal purview. With Universal Cable purported to be supportive of Blood Drive, this would be the path of least resistance; for Hulu’s part, it would be inheriting more original content to further push back against Netflix’s domination of the television buzz cycle, hours that make financial sense for the greater NBCU good and hours that are pre-branded with awareness that can be hard to come by for new productions. Blood Drive is very different from the typical Hulu show, as their only horror/sci-fi shows are high school freak show Freakish and episodic anthology Dimension 404, and with past continuations The Mindy Project and Nashville doing well, there’s a history of fan bases flocking to Hulu to find their shows.
Cons: Hulu’s in an interesting position, where their scripted original brand is flourishing yet they’re still going heavily on acquisitions. They’re said to be spending a fraction of what Netflix and Amazon are regarding original programming despite their first taste of legitimacy in The Handmaid’s Tale, which walked away with eight Primetime Emmys including Outstanding Drama Series. By getting this validation from the television industry, becoming the first streamer to win a series Emmy in spite of a lower originals budget, Hulu could very well want to push further with shows they develop themselves vs. taking on projects from other platforms. They’re clearly going in the right direction regarding their approach to originals, so with that lower budget, they might want to allocate a greater proportion to furthering this newfound respect they’ve been given, especially since they’re not hurting for buzz as much these days. One of the risks in picking up shows from other networks is that you could be looked at as the Island of Misfit Television Shows rather than a place with a budget and brand of your own, so if Hulu wants to get involved with Blood Drive (which currently isn’t available to stream there) but doesn’t want to absorb it into the fold like it did with The Mindy Project, it might have to be in the same way it was with Nashville, where a third-party network joins the fray.
Pros: The network soon-to-be-formerly-known-as-Spike only recently dipped its toes back into the scripted waters with The Mist, a modestly rated Stephen King adaptation, and MTV cast off The Shannara Chronicles, both of which are moderately budgeted genre shows that fit well with Blood Drive. As much as networks who rebrand want to live and die by their own hand, lest their success be credited to a platform other than their own, what any new brand needs more than anything is buzz, to get people talking about them one way or another. In lieu of a big acquisition deal that focuses on syndication properties or movies, the next best thing is to find a wayward show with an audience that matches your own and an engaged audience that you’d be luring to your network. With Paramount looking to become a prime scripted hub for Viacom thanks to its international reach, they might have to cut a corner or two in order to achieve a certain number of original hours without breaking the bank and something like Blood Drive could help.
Cons: Judging from its initial programming slate, Paramount looks to be going for a catch-all USA Network-type vibe rather than the genre-friendly hub that Spike was becoming. With The Mist cancelled at similar ratings levels to Blood Drive, if they want to renew a lower-rated genre show, they could go with (essentially) in-house drama The Shannara Chronicles, and if they’re going for a broader, more general brand, something as specific and niche as Blood Drive might not make as much sense. Plus, there’s the matter of financial ego, as a network trying to build a new brand isn’t going to want one of their first big moves to be acquiring a lower-rated show from a competitor. Though Blood Drive‘s lower numbers look better due to expense, or lack thereof, it’s not produced by a company related to Viacom and therefore might be too much of a reach, even if Paramount were interested.
Pros: As evidenced by the likes of Sense8, Lady Dynamite, and The OA, Netflix isn’t afraid of shows with a very specific audience, nor does it back down from shows that can challenge and alienate some of its subscribers. Given it’s tremendous reach and lack of public ratings, it can program toward passionate audiences and use its marketing muscle and brand loyalty to get shows sampled that wouldn’t be touched elsewhere. With Blood Drive having a subject and sensibility that might not appeal to everyone, going to a platform that supports its craziness and doesn’t have to worry about Nielsen makes sense, especially since the show has already premiered internationally, making a subsequent transfer to a Netflix original less abrupt, and Netflix has distributed UCP shows internationally before. Netflix hasn’t been shy about saving shows in the past (see: The Killing, Longmire, The Last Kingdom, etc.) and where Blood Drive is a cost effective sci-fi/horror/action show (see: the fact that an entire season of Blood Drive could be made for the money it took to create three Sense8 season two episodes), it fills a niche in their brand while not straining an already winded content budget any more than it has to.
Cons: The last time Netflix saved an outright cancelled show vs. outbidding another outlet for something whose rights were up (Black Mirror), opting in as co-producer (The Last Kingdom), or taking over production for another side that opted out (Lovesick) was Longmire in 2015. The platform seems much more engaged with producing its own originals than in becoming a place that regularly rescues shows in need, even with a ballooning content budget and a string of recent homegrown cancellations. Though Blood Drive has generated a fair amount of buzz, moreso concentrated among its cult core, it might not have enough power behind it to get Netflix to pay attention.