Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TV Shows That Were Too Good to Cancel

For anyone familiar with the history of science fiction television programming, the cancellation and subsequent re-launch of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (Shattner, Nimoy, et al) is something of an outlier.  Television programmes are in the business of selling advertising to subsidize network expenses; the higher the rating, the more people watch and the more you can charge for ads (akin to the Superbowl, to a much lesser degree).  When it comes down to the wire, networks may cannibalize their own shows to allow more successful show to flourish, or throw out a sacrificial lamb to compete against another network’s super-show. Those that fail to make the grade of some arcane advertising revenues less expenses and any number of other factors get cancelled, sometimes rescheduled to another time slot (sometimes akin to cancellation). Then there are the half-season shows, thrown into the mix in January; concept programmes that perhaps didn’t make the September line-up but stand a chance, if small, later in the season.

Now, I understand the business model of the networks (several case studies during my MBA certainly help).  Science fiction programmes are a tricky breed to sell to the masses.  Star Trek has its fan base, an extremely dedicated one, making that show a relatively easy sell.  Shows that start from scratch make for a dicey start for executives to swallow.  Outside of specialty channels (SciFi, Space, ShowCase), getting a science fiction programme in Prime Time is up against stiff competition; fantasy is in an even worse jam.  The masses typically go for standard fare programmes: reality TV (personal hatred for this type), legal/police drama (which I like, yet how many Law & Order, NCIS and CSI clones do we really need?) or comedies of one type or another.  Science fiction and fantasy programming doesn’t take well to network television - we'll see if Grimm and Once Upon a Time  have the legs to prove me wrong... I hope so.

In some cases this problem transcends from network TV over to the specialty channels as well.  Lack of adequate viewers fails to justify the advertising space charges to companies buying commercial time.  Two particular shows that suffered this fate were Firefly and Stargate: Universe. 

Firefly lasted a half-season before getting cancelled, something that sat very poorly with the show’s fans.  I actually didn’t get to watch this show until it came out on DVD, and only after the movie-conclusion Serenity.  Firefly was something quirky and completely different than what was on TV at the time; a western-style show set in outer space that didn’t sell well with the executives.  I can honestly say this was a travesty to television.  The pacing was great, the characters wonderful, the acting and graphics superb.  The follow-up Serenity made due by wrapping things up in a way that makes Firefly one of the more endearing shows cancelled before its time, in my humble opinion.

Stargate: Universe was another breed of show that didn’t quite make the cut either.  The third outing from the Stargate franchise, it departed from its campy predecessors in both setting and style.  Sure, there were enough similarities to ensure it fit the mould, yet far enough that it didn’t keep enough people tuned in to be renewed.  I’m just finishing the second, final season and I can’t say enough about how well this show could have gotten.  After getting away from the Lucian Alliance threat, they inserted two threatening enemy races that could have easily pushed into a third season.  Like Firefly, they rushed several of the final episodes to close the arcs out before the show ended.  A gritty and edgy programme, the loss of Universe is untimely and ultimately a loss for the franchise as a whole.

 So ends my obituary/rant of sorts for two fine programmes and the loss of soul Prime Time seems headlong rushing to embrace.  Someone hand me another scotch and give me the one-liner response to who won Survivor and Dancing with the Stars, which CSI or Law & Order cast should be axed and “who did it” in the most recent cop/legal drama .  It appears this is the only programming safe for water cooler discussions.

No comments:

Post a Comment