Can Network Television just not handle cutting edge TV programming? Did “Kings” fail because it was on Network Television as opposed to Showtime or HBO? I just watched the second to last episode and got to thinking about it. Looking back, I see that that overall plot was pretty good; it was just that the rest of the production didn’t live up to that. I just deleted a large section where I nit-picked what I didn’t like; because, that isn’t really what I wanted to write about. I am really interested as to why this show failed.
There was a bit in “The Long Lead Story,” episode 5 of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” where the president of Entertainment Programming for the fictional NBS, Jorden McDeere (played by Amanda Peet), wants to buy the pilot of a show called “Nations” about the behind the scenes workings of the United Nations. The debate in the show is about how HBO wants the show and that it doesn’t belong on Network TV. When she first comes out and asks for Danny’s help in convincing the writer to let them buy it, he says, “No.” When asked why he says, “Because HBO is better.” At another point in the show she says, “I don’t think that the people who write TV are smarter than the people who watch TV.”
But when I see “Kings” and wonder what happened that made the show into the mess that got it canceled to nobody’s surprise, when I see a show as unbelievably good as “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” get canceled due to low ratings, and when I see the high ratings of all the reality TV shows; I wonder if the statement above is true… at least for Network TV. Over on the high end pay channels like HBO and Showtime we have shows like “Deadwood,” “Rome,” “Dexter,” “Californification,” “Weeds,” “The Tutors,” “Entourage,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Trueblood” to name more than a few. Even basic cable has great stuff like “Rescue Me,” “The Shield,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Mad Men.” To be fair there have been some good shows on cable that got the axe before their time such as “Dead Like Me” and “Farscape” to name two.
There is a lot of well written TV out there across all genres, but it appears to only flourish on cable. Could these shows not survive on regular Network TV? If not, why? Is it the audience? I hesitate to blindly place blame with the network executives. I know they want their shows to succeed even if they sometimes appear to be working hard against that. I don’t really think it was entirely their fault for canceling “Terminator, the Sarah Conner Chronicles.” I think the writers have to take some of that blame as well; because, they appeared to be dragging out too much of the personal character issues at the expense of the action we would expect in a TV show about time traveling killer robots from the future. But for all I know that could have been the network guy’s fault too. Something obviously went wrong and now the show is gone. Dollhouse was moving along just as slow until the last two episodes, but thankfully that survived the axe and hopefully Josh and the gang will pick up the pace a bit next season.
I loved Westwing but even it suffered from low ratings in its later years. I was never that impressed by 24. If you haven’t seen the YouTube clip of David Cross’ reaction to “Arrested Development” being canceled, you really should. What else? I haven’t watched “Lost” since season two, thanks to the even worse Australian Network TV (whole other rant) but I hear people complaining about it all the time. In the beginning the show was going too slow and dragging everything out and now they are complaining that it is going too fast and confusing everybody. Speaking of Joss Whedon, there was “Angel” that I still don't understand while another network didn't pick up and of course “Firefly.” I am trying to think of a other shows... there was the one about the American Embassy years ago that I think I liked, that one where Gena Davis was President which I thought was horrible, and a few others that have already slipped my mind.
Back to the audience issue, is network TV just for those people who want some instant satisfaction entertainment without all the baggage of having to concentrate too deeply on the show or its ongoing back story? Shows like CSI and Law and Order seem to fit that bill, “done in one” as they say in the comic book industry. Sure it’s an on-going show, but the whole story is pretty much done in one episode and you don’t lose anything if you miss any shows in-between. That is pretty much true for most sit-coms as well. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this. But is it the fate of Network TV to be saddled with nothing but that type of show while the harder stuff is confined to cable?
Anyway... sorry was just rambling there. I always have this fear that I am going to be trying to get a job as a writer at sometime in the future and somebody is going to read my blog, see these rambling posts, and not hire me. Dear Mr. Editor from the Future, If I was writing this for you I would have structured and paced it a whole lot better, not to mention actually proof read it. Okay, that should solve that problem. Now I am just going to go toss a penny into the fountain and make a wise that Aaron Sorkin will come back and do another TV show.