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Fickle TV Fans

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I am always baffled by the behavior of fickle fans. I’m talking about those who abandon a series quickly or without logical reason. Sometimes series do go downhill and, in that case, it’s understandable to jump ship. But when the writing and acting remains at a certain standard, and it’s not a procedural that just gets old because it’s the same thing week after week, why do viewers tune out?

J2The most recent big example of this phenomenon in recent memory involves AMC’s The Killing. After a critically acclaimed freshman run, people were outraged when the murder was not solved at the end of the year. Thousands of watchers, if not more, took to the Internet to pour out their hurt feelings, claiming to have been betrayed or cheated by the series they loved.

Why? The show never promised to tie things up in a year. I believe many jumped to the conclusion that it would be once the case wasn’t closed in the first episode because that’s what made sense and was predictable. But there was never a stated contract that this would be the case.

Taking two seasons to solve the murder was a bold and brilliant move, but The Killing paid dearly for it. Because it didn’t kowtow to an expected formula, viewers punished it with much lower ratings in year two, which resulted in the (thankfully not permanent) cancellation of the series.

As someone who loved both seasons, and was thrilled that The Killing was daring enough to take twenty-six hours to investigate a single murder, I became quite disappointed and baffled with the behavior. Why did anyone feel betrayed? We got more of the same high quality story we were loving! And by really taking its time, The Killing let the story breathe so much more than the typical crime show. It was able to really get inside the heads of those involved in the case and how a family deals with such tragedy.

But that was last year, and The Killing does get to live on, albeit as a slightly neutered version of itself that has to promise to end the latest case by the close of the season.

The more immediate example, which I find even more disturbing, is the way fans have quickly turned on HBO’s Game of Thrones after last week’s penultimate installment, “The Rains of Castamere,” in which several pivotal, main characters were slaughtered at an event known as The Red Wedding. In the past week, people took to facebook and twitter, lamenting their broken relationship with author George R.R. Martin and the series, vowing to be done watching it.

Now, as I write this, the ratings for last night’s season finale have not been released, but already reviews and rankings have not been nearly as positive as before, which worries me. I feel like the negative feedback is part of the backlash from last week, not an actual judgment on the season’s conclusion, which was a very typical episode.

J1Game of Thrones is one of TV’s biggest series, certainly when compared to other cable networks. This has worked out well because it is such an expensive show to make. Yet, as the three seasons have played out, more and more viewers have gotten on board and sang the show’s praises. A dramatic falling of the numbers could put the future of the show in jeopardy.

Game of Thrones is a little different from The Killing because it is based on a book series, and more or less follows the author’s already-published story. Those who previously read two thick volumes knew of this event before it happened, and I feel like the negativity is coming more from those who have only watched the show, not expecting something so brutal to occur. So it’s the casual “fan,” not the diehard, that is doing the snubbing.

Yet, Game of Thrones has always been nothing if not cruel. Other characters have been taken out without warning, too, and violence and death are routine components of the tale. Ned Stark’s execution in season one’s penultimate offering is a great example of the same type of twist. Why are people so upset now? Yes, they’ve had more time to get to know these characters, so their deaths are harder to deal with than Ned’s, but because death is built into the fabric of the show, it should not be so surprising.

Should Game of Thrones suffer the same drop-off in viewers as The Killing, this could scare away makers of high quality television. Lost weathered the slings and arrows a few years back and still got to finish on its own terms, but with cable stretching into more creative realms, they risk both great reward and great loss. Could this be the beginning of the end for such clever storytelling?

I sincerely hope not. I know things like this, killing off beloved characters in graphic ways, can take people out of their comfort zones, and many people don’t want to be disturbed. However, in an era when so much has already been done before, such bravery should be rewarded, not derided. If you watch Game of Thrones, I urge you to stand against the haters. The fate of the Seven Kingdoms, and great television, could be in jeopardy, and we cannot allow that to happen.

And if you are one of those who have turned your back on the fantasy series, please explain to me why in the comments below. I just don’t understand it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let the world know what you are looking for in a show, and why you would suddenly be against something you once loved. Perhaps through understanding, writers might know better how to serve your interests.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett Barbara Barnett

    Fans have been fickle for so many years, and it has led to downturns. Fortunately, with cable, the viewership standards are different and a show doesn’t have to be a “hit” with the advertisers. But when, for example, the fans turned away from House in droves its last season, the network and studio could not come to an agreement about the series’ continuation and it ended (properly so, I think).

    You never know what will turn off an audience, but the showrunners do everyone a disservice if they listen to the voice of the fans and turn away from making their show. I don’t think GOT will suffer that fat (George RR Martin cannot really vary too much from the novels : ) ). But the shocking penultimate episode had to happen, just like Edard’s death the year before.