On the matter of unstable TV shows

by Paul William Tenny

Since I'm still on the topic of Sanctuary and its falling ratings -- even though it just got renewed -- now is a great time to talk about shows in general that are having issues and looking at how each one is being treated differently. Heroes on NBC, Pushing Daises on ABC, Sanctuary which I've already covered on Scifi, Prison Break, Terminator, My Own Worst Enemy and Lipstick Jungle are all having significant problems this season.

Some of these shows, in fact, are already dead.
If you're not up to speed, you can bone up about Sanctuary here. I'll skip that but use it as a launching pad into some of these other struggling shows. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles debuted to 18 million viewers, albeit after an NFL playoff game this past January, but lost eight million people after just 24 hours. 1x02 got ten million viewers and it has gone down virtually every week since. Have you ever seen The Abyss, where the submersible oil rig gets dragged across the ocean floor, then down a huge mountain before finally coming to a rest on the edge of a trench cliff?

That's what happened to SCC.

At five million viewers and change, there's just no way this show is worth what it costs to produce. Fox published its mid-season schedule which has SCC moved from Monday nights to Friday evenings as a partner for Joss Whedon's new series Dollhouse -- which doesn't speak well of Fox's "commitment" to Dollhouse if it's going to be paired with the network's biggest loser.

I was surprised that Fox picked it up for the full year and obviously looking back, that was a pretty big mistake. People have been speculating that it only got the pickup due to the recent global economic meltdown and that the networks have gotten gun shy. It could be that, or it could just be that Fox really likes the show.

Who knows?

Another Fox regular that had a really spectacular first season in terms of quality and ratings but has sucked pretty much ever since -- oddly enough I've read that Stephen King loves the show for whatever that's worth -- is going on hiatus, isn't doing much better than SCC in the ratings, and Fox didn't have it on its mid-season sched. That's bad news folks, and while Prison Break may be getting its rumored spin-off, the predecessor may be heading for the television grave yard. It may actually be cheaper as far as strict production costs go, but Prison Break is approaching that evil fifth season plateau where the cast is going to make it financially painful to continue production but it'll be much easier to sell into syndication due to the number of episodes produced.

Now is probably a good time to dump it, even though I actually like the show, it could be time to drop Prison Break to make room for Dollhouse on Monday nights instead of dumping Whedon's brand-spanking-new show into the Friday night death slot.

Want a list of shows that have died there? Millennium. The Lone Gunmen. Strange Luck. Dark Angel. Firefly (best show ever)...it's pretty horrible.

Pushing Daisies, which was generally considered the best new fall show of its class, also seems to be on the verge of being canceled. I watched the first 5 episodes and generally enjoyed what I saw, but it wasn't compelling me to come back for more. I felt comfortable being able to miss an episode here and there but wasn't really drawn to come back to it after a while, which is really, really bad. Bryan Fuller left Heroes back when Heroes was the show on TV to create and run Daisies and I wrote back then that while I might have done the same thing, you know it had to be a very hard to decision to walk away from a show like Heroes where you were already an executive producer with a lot of power, but also part of something great no matter what you were contributing to the show.

What if you walked out that door and it closed behind you? I mean really closed behind you, as in you can't go back.

Well, Heroes just had two producers fired by NBC-U and has been steadily losing viewers since the end of its first season. I've seen people say it before, and I wondered about this myself back before Fuller had even shot the pilot for Daisies; what if Daisies fails, will Fuller be able to come back to Heroes, and will it need him?

Was he the magic ingredient, and will Heroes fall apart without him?

I can't answer that question but there is some circumstantial evidence that Fuller really made that show gel, even though it wasn't his. Depending on which show you like more, this is all either great news or really bad news. Fuller did tell Entertainment Weekly that if ABC doesn't give Pushing Daisies its back-9 order that "I will definitely be going back to play with my friends at Heroes." That won't be until January, and by that time for all anyone knows there may not even be a Heroes at that point.

And to think that after the first season wrapped production, NBC was already talking about a spin-off called Origins.

Two of NBC's other series, Lipstick Jungle which I actually thought was passable, and the over-hyped Christian Slater TV-vehicle My Own Worst Enemy have been given the axe. I'm sorry if you liked these shows, but they have gone the way of Firefly. Perhaps if NBC hadn't loaded these shows with expensive stars and gone with some fresh talent, there might have been more room to work with. Or, perhaps, they just weren't any good to begin with.

Such is the subjective nature of television that I didn't even have time to watch Slater's series or even get a look at the ratings.

As you can see for yourself, different shows doing roughly the same kind of numbers can have completely different paths to walk depending on where they happen to be aired. Pushing Daisies is doing better ratings than SCC, but SCC is sure to die while ABC hasn't quite decided what to do with Daisies yet. Knight Rider had most of its main cast fired and is being retooled behind the scenes, but hasn't been canceled as quickly as Worst Enemy did, despite the huge chunk of change that NBC sunk into its advertising and bringing on Slater.

All of these shows could live happily on cable with these numbers -- dominate actually -- if they could just be produced for less money.

Along those lines, I'm hearing rumors (can't find a link) that Prison Break's studio may try to shop the series to the cable nets to keep it alive. The big problem with that is that it's a virtual guarantee to cost it even more viewers in the move and at that point, you've got to wonder if it'll have enough of an audience left to make it worth it even for a cable net that might be happy with 2-3 million viewers. These days there are cable shows pulling in up to eight million people putting a few rare shows in direct competition with the broadcast networks.

Welp, can't say this television season hasn't been an interesting one.
in Feature, Ratings, Television


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