WASHINGTON, October 1, 2014 – Update: With 5.6 million fans “Longmire” is still waiting for a network to pick up the series for its fourth season. A&E dropped the show citing that its fans were not of the “correct demographic”, i.e., too old. And fans are hating them for it. It will be interesting if other shows suffer from viewership falloff as a result.
USA Network has been rumored to be interested in picking the show up, however fans are all waiting for confirmation about this.
The shows canceling came amongst the bandwidth-clogging “coming fall season” TV hoopla, a decision by A&E’s that was shocking and (we think) ill-advised. This most unusual detective series was the also-ran cable network’s #2-rated show in terms of viewership.
According to a “Deadline Hollywood” report, “Longmire” “was also A&E’s most-watched original scripted series of all time. It averaged 5.6 million viewers in Season 3’s most current ratings, a slight dip from Season 2’s nearly 6 million average despite a much weaker lead-in.”
“Longmire”: The characters
A&E’s modern western detective drama was distinguished by its intelligent scripts, colorful characters, brilliant low-key acting, and exotic locale in the Wyoming outback—although it was largely filmed in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. The series starred Australian actor Robert Taylor (Agent Smith’s number two man in the “Matrix” film trilogy) as Walt Longmire, a tired, cynical but relentless middle-aged 21st century cowboy-sheriff-detective.
Longmire is forced to solve murders and other crimes largely by wit, intuition, and wild west tracking skills, even though hampered by a near-complete lack of CSI-style technologies and backup.
Making matters tougher on a personal level, Walt is haunted by the mysterious death of his wife, which occurred before the series began.
Walt also frequently finds himself at loggerheads with local tribal chiefs and lawmen on the local Indian reservation where he’s forced to tread carefully since he has no real jurisdiction. It’s worth noting that the Indian characters on “Longmire” are carefully and meticulously researched and drawn. This has been one of the most appealing aspects of this series, something explored in a bit more depth in the following brief A&E documentary profiling Marcus Red Thunder, the show’s advisor on Cheyenne manners and customs.
When boxed in by prickly tribal leaders, Longmire often turns to his one real friend, an Indian and local bar owner named Henry Standing Bear, incredibly well-played by a surprising Lou Diamond Phillips who is actually part-Cherokee.
Further complicating Walt’s life: his own deputy, the younger, hunkier Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) who’s running against him for the office of sheriff in the upcoming local election. Making matters still worse, Branch is sleeping with Walt’s adult daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman) on the side, a fact that both Branch and Cady endeavor to conceal.
When he hits the investigative trail in his battered official pickup truck, Walt’s usual sidekick is transplanted Philadelphia detective Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff). We’re not quite sure why a female urban detective has chosen to relocate in the wastelands of Wyoming, but her backstory eventually comes back to haunt her as well.
In other words, “Longmire” has—or had—going for it all the elements that can make a series great: Interesting, sometimes haunted and complex characters we’ll need to learn more about; at least two violent backstories; genuine and not phony conflicts between Indian law and the white man’s law; and, in this case, random, often highly-violent crimes with few obvious clues and—due to being located in a sparsely populated area—not being readily subject to the latest in forensics.
And one more thing, as Columbo used to say. In terms of its wide-open, rural Wyoming setting and characters, “Longmire” marks a rare and welcome departure from the tired New York, DC, and LA locales where far too many such series are both set and filmed. It’s a big country out there with interesting people in it. It’s nice to see their lives portrayed once in a while, and that’s something else “Longmire” accomplishes.
Viewer demographics: Who want old people?
One key aspect of “Longmire,” however, is the age of its key characters. Walt and Henry are clearly tipping 50 or more; Vic is likely in her late 30s and getting close to 40; and even those iffy lovebirds, Branch and Cady, are well past college age. In other words, “Longmire” is a show that’s by and about real adults in real adult situations.
Both primary and secondary characters are not impossibly beautiful people. Romance as such is more basic than sexy, more practical than passionate. And all the characters, even the younger ones, have clearly been slapped around by life, approaching everything with considerable caution and rarely trusting a first response whether in love, social interaction or crime-solving.
Not surprisingly, the show was a big hit with a somewhat older demographic: late 40s and beyond, although recent stats have shown the third season becoming more appealing to family viewers of all ages.
But too bad. The coveted viewer demographic these days is roughly 18-45. Nailing this demographic gets top dollar for shows that appeal to the segment. Anything else can sell ads, too, but not for the big bucks. Which proved to be problem one for “Longmire.”
The next nail in the coffin was simple. The show was created and produced by a branch of Time-Warner known as Warner-Horizon Television. Warner Horizon took care of each season package and then sold it to A&E. That’s long been standard practice in TV, but lately, things have begun to change radically as the smithereening of the old three—then four—network model began to implode.
Most network TV shows used to be produced and filmed by other entities. But with so many cable channels now proliferating, audience shares have shrunk, cutting viewer numbers per channel and thus reducing ad rates virtually across the boards.
One way of fighting this is to program only shows that appeal to the target younger demographic. Slicing and dicing further, networks that do their own series in-house can cut out the hefty fees they have to pay for buying shows from outside studios like Warner Horizon.
When announcing its axing of “Longmire” after wrapping its third season, A&E admitted it was killing its number two show. But the cable network has claimed that between getting lower advertising dollars for a show not hitting its key demographic and having to pay higher fees for picking up shows produced outside their own studio capabilities, they were actually losing money on “Longmire.”
We’re never likely to get the complete skinny on this. It could be that “Longmire” made money for A&E—just not enough to award network muckety-mucks with higher bonuses. But in point of fact, A&E is clearly going in the direction of “unscripted” shows as it moves into its next fiscal year.
In other words, a network that started out by airing mostly high-level, high-art offerings as gradually decayed into another scrappy also-ran that’s prepared to get deeper and deeper into more and more reality crap, which is our scientific term for “unscripted” shows, although that term is obviously not telling the whole story behind these shows either.
Sadly, A&E hasn’t always been intelligent in its handling of even its hit reality series, “Duck Dynasty,” having ousted the paterfamilias of the dynasty last season—albeit briefly—due to the faux outrage that erupted when he proclaimed his religious opposition to homosexual behavior. The learning curve doesn’t seem to have improved much here since then.
Follow the money. Why not do what Deep Throat said?
As cable TV has evolved, we’ve witnessed the out-of-control spectacle of more and more specialized TV and cable “networks” pursuing ever smaller slices of what everyone regards as the key demographic. What this pursuit ignores, however, is a pair of key current truths.
Truth #1: The older demographic, say 50 and up, pretty much has most of the spendable income that remains in this country, post-2007-2010. By ruthlessly ignoring the demographic that has all the money, all networks are leaving money on the table—likely quite a lot of it.
The time-honored excuse for doing so is the observation—likely once-true—that older viewers’ spending habits are pretty much set for life and therefore are not subject to new products or new sales pitches. So why advertise products to them, when kids are still an open book and still persuadable.
Kids are indeed still open books and still persuadable. But if, as the press continually tells us, the younger demographic, particularly millennials, are either unemployed or under-employed, they have considerably less money to spend than aging Boomers. So how is aiming advertising almost exclusively at a demographic that’s broke going to sell more product? Good question. But the studios are stuck in the last century and don’t bother to address it.
Truth #2: Given the multiplicity of viewing choices today, even the big networks are no longer going to pull the kind of viewership numbers they used to pull. The pie is cut into much smaller pieces right now. Network and cable TV by its very nature needs to address smaller and smaller niches, and cutting out all but one of these niches is shortsighted in the long run, particularly when it ignores the way money is spent.
The days when everyone tuned into The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night are long gone. Advertising and viewing models need to pay more attention to the way entertainment is sold today—including alternatives to TV such as portable devices as well as the Internet itself.
Cutting out older viewers from the kind of programming they prefer is ultimately going to hinder profitability rather than help it, as today’s “old people”—the Boomers—are far more experimental, open, and adventurous in viewing as well as purchasing than were their Greatest Generation parents. Why ignore them by imposing the last generation’s behavior patterns on them?
Does “Longmire” have a future?
Which gets us back to “Longmire.” Neither the show’s writers, creators, producers nor the stars themselves are taking the show’s cancellation sitting down, particularly Lou Diamond Phillips who’s been lighting up the Twitterverse recently with news, info and just plain cheerleading.
The show’s considerable number of fans are campaigining hard as well. Fan pressure on A&E consistently failed to budge them from their short-sighted decision, something for which they’ll pay a price going down the road if not soon.
But on the other hand, rumors are flying about that another home could ultimately be found for the series. Early scuttlebut had Netflix and Amazon in the running. And indeed, given its clear success with genuinely adult dramas to date, Netflix could be a good bet to be “Longmire’s” new home.
But lately, the hottest rumors have focused on the once robust but currently flagging USA network, a channel that’s consistently come up with good, character-driven fare but lately has seen its most popular series like “Burn Notice” and “Psych” run their allotted and successful course without equally compelling material ready to move up from the bench.
Warner Horizon still believes in their “Longmire” product, at least at this point. It’s encouraging to see that they’ve put together a detailed presentation and stats on the show, ready to pitch anyone who’s willing to listen.
And someone should listen, as that 5.6-6 million viewer average for each “Longmire” episode is a lot better than most cable shows will ever achieve. Why throw it away while the product is still hot, even if you might occasionally have to advertise Depends or Ensure? (Or, more likely, Mercedes or Land Rover?)
We’ll keep an eye on the “Longmire” situation and report back as information warrants.
Frankly, if nothing else, someone ought to be interested in giving the series a decent wrap. The cliffhanger finale to the recently wrapped Season 3 has left fans hanging in the wind, driven crazy by the possibility they may never find out what happened next.
(Photos above are screenshots of A&E promo stills for “Longmire.”)