After two months on hiatus without even reruns to keep us company, One Tree Hill has returned to The CW to air its final four episodes of season 7, and fans are left wondering if those will also be the final four episodes of the series.
One Tree Hill began in 2003 as a “teen drama” focused on the lives of five teenagers, but more specifically on the relationship – or the lack thereof – between half-brothers Nathan and Lucas Scott.
Despite the stigma surrounding “teen shows,” One Tree Hill has always managed to appeal to a broader audience by incorporating strong and intriguing adult characters, and spending time on family dynamics instead of trying to produce endless scandals to satiate the teen set.
One Tree Hill has always been a show with a lot of heart, explaining why its fans are among the most loyal in all of television. Show creator Mark Schwahn and the other writers deserve credit for the compelling drama, managing to offer storylines that haven’t been done (and redone!) before. The writing on One Tree Hill has been enhanced by the use of classic literary voiceovers and a quality soundtrack unparalleled in television.
But even though One Tree Hill has enjoyed seven years of success, and the actors, cast, and crew are already signed on and enthusiastic about making an eighth season, The CW has yet to issue an official renewal for one of their most successful shows.
The obvious question is “Why?” and the obvious answer is money. After all, seven years of success equals a hefty production cost, and comes with a price tag that The CW doesn’t seem to want to pay. However, you get what you pay for, and the CW gets a great return on its investment in One Tree Hill.
Quality programming is disappearing from the airwaves at an unprecedented rate thanks to reality TV, which happens to be the cheapest medium to produce (along with game shows). Scripted dramas cost more money, because they feature actors and writers who must be paid for their contributions.
In the same vein, younger shows with inexperienced casts (like The CW’s 90210, for example) come cheap because the actors are in first-time roles and haven’t earned the salary of a seven-year veteran actress like One Tree Hill’s Sophia Bush.
This might serve to illuminate The CW’s decision to grant renewals to shows like America’s Next Top Model, 90210, and Gossip Girl, while leaving One Tree Hill in limbo.
However, when you look at the numbers, there is still a disconnect in that logic. Cheaper production costs is one thing, but ratings still matter, right? When advertisers see big numbers tuning into a show, they’re more willing to shell out money to air commercials during that show, or pay for product placements to be used within the show.
Gossip Girl is The CW’s darling because critics took an initial interest in the show and everybody was talking about it. The CW has promoted Gossip Girl relentlessly in every possible avenue. They even incorporated mentions of Gossip Girl into episodes of One Tree Hill! Why would they do that? Because One Tree Hill, without the articles and the interviews and the attention of Gossip Girl, still managed to pull in significantly higher ratings. In fact, One Tree Hill’s LOWEST rated seasons match Gossip Girl’s HIGHEST rated seasons. Something seems a little backwards there, right?
Then, consider The CW’s remake of 90210. Its series high ratings were from early in the first season – 5.14 million viewers. People who loved the original 90210 tuned in to see if the new one would match the original. Unfortunately for The CW, those ratings quickly went into a freefall and settled in to around two million, with one episode as low as 1.48 million. Still, 90210 got an early renewal from The CW, because even though their ratings are in the tank, it still costs very little to produce and has struck the interest of the teen set.
The only CW shows yet to see renewal are One Tree Hill and the freshman drama, Life Unexpected. I have heard that it’s a good show – something with a little more substance than 90210 or Gossip Girl, at least. In order to create an audience for the show, The CW put it on the air initially right after One Tree Hill and marketed the new drama to One Tree Hill’s loyal fans. Then, they sent One Tree Hill on hiatus for two months and put Life Unexpected in its time slot, so that viewers used to tuning in on Mondays at 8pm would naturally watch Life Unexpected instead. I might not have minded the bait and switch quite as much were it not for the fact that The CW left these two shows hanging, in seeming competition for the sole remaining time slot on their fall docket. Did they think that One Tree Hill fans would just forget about their show of 7 years and accept a premature cancellation in exchange for a new show that’s only aired for half a season?
After The CW renewed all their shows but One Tree Hill and Life Unexpected (besides the obviously-over Melrose Place), polls started popping up online asking fans to decide which show should be saved. I can’t imagine the results surprised anyone: fans wanted BOTH shows to stay, but having to choose only one, One Tree Hill was the obvious winner.
Oops. I guess The CW should have weighed its options a little better before offering up early renewals for shows with dwindling audiences before considering that it might be in their best interest to keep both One Tree Hill and Life Unexpected around for another full season. (Life Unexpected, by the way, is pulling in higher ratings than 90210 or Gossip Girl, but still about half a million viewers lower than One Tree Hill.)
Further proof regarding One Tree Hill’s viability came in the form of E!Online’s Save One Show Campaign, wherein fans vote to save one “bubble show,” and the winner gets a big push in the press. Nineteen shows were in the running this year, but it came down to a top five including: One Tree Hill, Life Unexpected, Chuck, Better off Ted, and Parenthood. Twitter support brought Heroes back into the running for the final vote, as well. During the campaign, E!News decided to champion Chuck and lend that show some extra support to drum up votes. The Daily 10, meanwhile, threw their support behind Life Unexpected. The rest of the shows were on their own. Still, when the votes were tallied on the official poll and on Twitter, the results broke down like so:
- Chuck – 52% of the vote
- One Tree Hill – 20% of the vote
- Life Unexpected – 11% of the vote
- Heroes – 8% of the vote
- Better off Ted – 5% of the vote
- Parenthood – 4% of the vote
- Heroes – 36%
- One Tree Hill – 32%
- Chuck – 28%
- Life Unexpected – 2%
- Parenthood – 1%
- Better off Ted – 1%
Combining the two lists, the obvious top three are: Chuck, One Tree Hill, and Heroes. You’ll notice that One Tree Hill came in second place for votes as well as Twitter mentions. What may not jump out at you right away, though, is that both Chuck and Heroes air on NBC – one of the “Big Three” networks. And while The CW is now considered a network (and is owned by CBS), they do not bring in ratings comparable to the big three. So, Chuck has 6.5 million viewers, and Heroes, once a ratings powerhouse, now brings in about 4 million viewers. Conversely, One Tree Hill’s success in the poll came from its 2.5 million viewers – 4 million less than winner, Chuck. Also of note: One Tree Hill was on hiatus (and had been on hiatus for over a month) when this campaign began. So, One Tree Hill had significantly less viewers, and was effectively “out of sight, out of mind,” but STILL managed to come in second place in both polls.
If I were a CW executive, I would take those numbers straight to my advertisers and point out that while One Tree Hill has a smaller audience by comparison, the fans are obviously devoted to the show, passionate, and involved in social networking – in other words, a marketing dream for advertisers hoping to push products on viewers. (Raise your hand if you watch One Tree Hill and you’ve ever bought Sunkist!)
In case The CW needed any more proof that One Tree Hill fans are a force to be reckoned with, the fans have been busy campaigning for Season 8. Christy-Anne, over at One Tree Hill Bugs, accepted fan donations to mail out uniform postcards on behalf of each fan who wanted to express their support to the network:
Meanwhile, fans took it upon themselves to start their own show-specific mailing campaign by sending thousands of basketballs to The CW, like Ali’s below:
The bottom line is this. One Tree Hill has devoted fans who have stuck with this show for 7 years, through a major network change (from the WB to the CW between seasons three and four), numerous schedule changes, a four and a half year time jump, and even the loss of two original cast members after season six. Any one of these things can cripple or end a show, but One Tree Hill has continued moving forward seamlessly, rewriting the playbook at every turn.
These fans, along with the creator, cast, and crew of One Tree Hill, deserve to see their show get its “happily ever after” ending – not to be dropped in the middle of developing storylines. When it is time for One Tree Hill to end, fans should know about it before the last season even begins, so that the writers have time to give it the sendoff we have all earned.
“No matter where you go, or who you become, this place will always be with you. There is only one Tree Hill. And it’s your home.” – Karen Roe, “The Games That Play Us.”
Along with emailing The CW and voting in the various online polls, I’ve decided to lend my voice to the show I love via this blog. So, if you’re a regular reader who doesn’t watch One Tree Hill, then I would first suggest adding season 1 to your Netflix queue post-haste, and second, bear with me as I have two more installments on the way. I first wanted to address why The CW should keep One Tree Hill from a business standpoint. In Part II, we can reminisce about why we love this show in the first place, and in Part III, discuss what we’d like to see happen before One Tree Hill eventually leaves the air.