Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Canceling a Show

I’m often baffled when a network will invest all the money to develop and advertise a new series, then cancel it after one episode. If you thought it was going to be that bad, why make it in the first place, and if you really believe in it, why would weak episode one numbers make you cancel the whole thing? If you’ve got more episodes made, at least give them a chance. After all, Seinfeld started out as a very low rated series, in today’s world, it would probably have been cancelled.

Ironically, as a viewer, I fall victim to that same one episode snap judgment I’m criticizing. I’ve been kind of backed up with TV to watch lately. At the start of the Fall season, I was planning, or at least thinking about, watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fringe, Sons of Anarchy, The Office, 30 Rock, Pushing Daisies, True Blood and Mad Men, along with catching on Pushing Daisies season one on DVD, and going through Berlin Alexanderplatz and the rest of Swingtown, Generation Kill and In Treatment I never watched over the summer. So, it’s just way too much stuff to watch in any kind of timely fashion, and with so many series, priorities become clear. I very rarely actively drop a show, Lost is probably the only show I’ve consciously said I’m not watching this any more too.

More frequently when I “cancel” a show, it happens due to a subconscious revelation of my lack of interest in the show. I’ll get a backlog of unwatched episodes, to the point that catching up would require a major time investment, and as the episodes stack up, I’ll eventually decide it’s not worth the time needed to catch up. That’s part of why I don’t like shows that launch with two hour premieres. The reason I gave up on 24 with season six was simply that I started four hours behind, and after a lackluster first couple of hours, I sat on the next couple of episodes, until there were nine aired, and I had no hope of catching up.

If I really like a show, I’ll invariably watch it right after it airs. True Blood, Mad Men or 30 Rock are all a must watch the night of. With The Wire, I would stay up until 3 or 4 AM to see the show when it first was added to the On Demand menu Sunday night. That level of interest is the greatest testament to the show’s quality, that absolute need to see the next episode.

But, what happens on the other end of the spectrum? I’ve got three episodes of Sons of Anarchy unwatched on the DVR. I liked the first episode, and was planning to watch more, but I never felt compelled to continue. There was always something a little better out there, and pretty soon it’ll reach the point where it takes a huge commitment to catch up. I watched the first episode of Fringe and thought, that’s ok, I’ll give it a couple more episodes. But, there’s always a cost to watching a show. The hour spent watching Fringe means I’m not able to catch up on a better show. It was a different landscape before TV on DVD, now Fringe not only has to compete against its timeslot, and other shows on TV today, it’s got to compete against every TV show ever made. Sure, Fringe may be ok, but is it going to top Berlin Alexanderplatz? I doubt it. It’s just not good enough to be worth my time, hence one episode was enough.

Right now, Sarah Connor is on the edge for me. I watched the first four episodes when they aired last year, and then “cancelled” the show due to lack of interest. I heard good things and caught up on season one in a couple of days on DVD. I’ve been watching season two as it goes, and realizing that the show has diminishing returns. It’s just not that good, and at one point do I cut it off? I’ve got one unwatched episode now, and rather than watch it, I’ve watched episodes of Berlin Alexanderplatz two nights in a row. Will I watch that episode? At this point, I feel like I’m invested in Sarah Connor enough to keep going, but it doesn’t captivate me in the way that the best TV should. It’s in that nebulous gray zone right now where a really bad episode could kill the show forever, or a really good one could put it back to a must watch.

Ultimately, I think it’s good that we live in a world with so many viewing options. For a while there, I felt like I was nearing the end of series to watch, but there’s a lot of great new stuff airing, and still a lot in the past that I want to go through. I’m still planning on watching the rest of Farscape at some point, but that’s another show that swerved in and out of must watch status, ranging from episodes that made me watch the next one immediately to episodes that put me off the show for a couple of weeks. But, Fringe is gone forever, and Sarah Connor could soon follow it off into the darkness of cancellation. Maybe they’ll get better, I would have probably stopped watching The X-Files, Babylon 5 and Buffy after their first season if I didn’t know they’d get better, but in today’s world, most shows don’t get the luxury of time to grow. It’s make or break immediately.


Anonymous said...

well, there are episodes in second season of Farscape that you should just skip, like "Taking the stone", "Picture if you will" or "Dream a little dream".
The first episodes of this season that are really important to the arc are "Look at the princess" trilogy and "Won't get fooled again". After watching those two, you should be hooked on the show.

It is the second half of second season that show actually becomes something more than just quirky show with aliens. "Look at the princess" is something like Farscape's "The Coming of Shadows", episode that establishes a lot of mythology and makes the whole series much more epic. And "Won't get fooled again" is masterpiece - both wonderfully zany and extremely important to the arc.

And there are some nice ones early in the season like laugh-out-loud funny 'crackers don't matter' and 'out of their minds' or well done flashback episode "the way we weren't".

and since beginning of third season show becomes something of a flawed masterpiece. there are some moments where series goes into really weird directions and writers some narrative missteps along the way, but overall it's mesmerizing experience, both mindblowingly epic and very human. you should love it.


Patrick said...

I'm definitely going to watch it eventually, just got to get through some other stuff first, then it'll be on to Farscape.