Monday, November 24, 2008

The Great Programming Conspiracy

When it comes to prime time television programming, I seem to be cursed. Every time I latch on to a particular show, inexplicably, it typically gets cancelled within two seasons.

The reason I am going on this little rant today is because I found out that two shows in my weekly diet, PUSHING DAISIES and ELI STONE are going the way of the dodo. Obviously, it is chalked up to poor ratings and probably more accurately, a lack of proper promotion. It isn’t like these shows were lacking for content. I think the bigger issue is that many of these shows that get cancelled within a season or two do not connect with the mass audiences. Many of the jokes leave the average couch potato staring blankly, waiting for a fart joke or some time-proven slapstick. It is because of this that I fear that my latest weekly fave, THE BIG BANG THEORY will probably vaporize within a year, too.

PUSHING DAISIES, I thought, was a great premise. It had great use of color, excellent character development, and a cast composed of people you could really feel for; even Chi McBride’s ├╝ber-cynical Emerson Cod. And the odd guest stars were always a welcome treat, especially Paul Reubens’ olfactorily-enhanced Oscar Vibenius. Quirky, yes, but it took on the challenges of relationships in a fresh, twisted light, much like its sister shows, WONDERFALLS and DEAD LIKE ME. All three of these, it comes as little surprise, were all the brainchild of Bryan Fuller, a man who also seems to have a curse, since everything he gets on the air has a relatively short lifespan, only to become cult classics when released on DVD.

ELI STONE, on the other hand, was probably a victim of its own implausible plot. A lawyer with a brain tumor, who could die at any time, has danger-ridden visions of the future (because of the tumor), and tries to adjust his life to avoid or quell the danger before it happens. The first season was great; lots of recognizable faces (Natasha Henstridge from SPECIES, Loretta Devine from GREY’S ANATOMY, and Victor Garber of ALIAS among them), and heartwarming stories lined with sardonic humor. It should be noted that Garber was also on a program about two years ago that I thoroughly enjoyed, JUSTICE, but was cancelled during its premiere season. See, I’m cursed.

Anyway, ELI STONE, like I said was bound by its own premise. At the close of the first season, the title character received an operation, thus eliminating the cause of his visions. Then, miraculously, during the early part of the second season, his brother starts having visions. Whoa, did you see that shark??? Anyway, I kept watching it, because I liked the characters, not that I could really relate to them in any way, but I liked the fact that they all seemed to be working really hard to better their own lives. And that alone is a great message to send to people sluggishly draped over their furniture, who are still waiting for that punchline.

I don’t know. Maybe I want a little more out of my television entertainment. That, or I just have REALLY bad luck. But like I said, I’ve latched on to tons of TV shows over the years that didn’t have legs. Even growing up in the 1980s, I aligned my loyalties with programs too ludicrous to continue to exist, like AUTOMAN, STREET HAWK, and MISFITS OF SCIENCE. Sure, I also watched those ratings-hounds, like THE A-TEAM and KNIGHT RIDER, but I mostly watched them so I had something to discuss with the kids at school. Hell, even in the late 80s, when FOX TV came into existence, some of my favorites included PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE, HERMAN’S HEAD, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BEANS BAXTER, and THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (I don’t think this one was a FOX show, but it had the same sensibilities as a FOX program).

Again, I do have my tendencies to follow the occasional network hit, like FRIENDS, BOSTON LEGAL (which dies in two weeks), DOCTOR WHO (does that count?), LOST (which had a pre-ordained lifespan), and HAWAII FIVE-O (which aired its final episode what, 30 years ago???). But it will always be those little shows that come in, make their statement and then vanish into the ether, that always hold a special place in the recesses of my memory.

To this day, one of my favorite (and arguably the best-constructed) television shows in history is THE PRISONER, which itself lasted only 17 episodes. So I guess I should just suck it up and enjoy these little nuggets while they are around. I will leave the rest of America to wallow in its self-loathing ambience of FAMILY GUY, CSI, and 24, while I wait around for the next INSIDE SCHWARTZ.


CrazySexyMetalChick! said...

I guess that's the scary thing about being a writer: if you write something "different" or of substance, is it doomed to failure simply because the idiot masses just don't "get it"? Are we doomed to writing shallow, pointless crap just because the formula produces a surefire hit? You could probably say the same thing about music and/or movies. How many teen pop tarts, each sounding the same and looking the same have massive success, while truly amazing musicians/songwriters struggle and are only appreciated in underground circles? And--oh god--I'm going to throw up if I see another formulaic horror flick! I expressed to my friend that I was actually scared that I might be an unsuccessful writer because I REFUSE to bow my knee to that kind of bullshit.

Dani/elle said...

I'm expected some sort of lengthy Disney-themed post.

Consider this an official nudge.