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It’s About the Journey: How To Enjoy A Cancelled Television Series

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These words from Ian Woolstencroft's American television article bothered me. “Twenty-two episodes is too much time to invest in something that’s never going to reach a proper conclusion,” said he. This might sound stupid, but unfinished television can still be great – with or without a proper ending. Take Nowhere Man for instance.

The short-lived 1995 UPN series told the tale of Thomas Veil (Bruce Greenwood) who searched for the answer to why his life was erased over a photograph. For the first twelve episodes of the show, Larry Herzog (who was the creator and executive producer) managed to keep the mystery as the springboard to create some excellent stories that could exist even without the overall mission of its main character. UPN however wanted Greenwood’s Veil to get smarter – they were growing frustrated at the series' supposed lack of direction.

At episode thirteen, Thomas Veil managed to obtain a Palm Pilot from someone on the inside containing a go-to list of all the people connected to those that would do him harm. From a network standpoint, this move would have been a solid idea and would boost the show’s ratings enough to warrant the second season. But if people were turned off by the lack of a clear direction in the first twelve episodes, they really got turned off after episode thirteen – myself included. Needless to say, the ratings still didn’t change – in the network’s mind, they got worse.

Shortly after the last episode, Nowhere Man was gone forever.

This past month I’ve watched a few episodes from the DVD set that is now available, and they are as good now as they were then. Sure Nowhere Man is incomplete, but it’s still good television. I’m sure the people who watched Surface and Invasion will still think when they purchase the DVDs. Even the fans of Sliders rewatch the series on DVD — and they got a fucked up ending.

Sometimes the conclusion of a story isn’t as satisfying as the journey it takes to get there – even if it never gets there. If you see it that way, you won’t be put off by most television.

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About Matthew Milam

  • Baronius

    Very nicely stated. As a sci-fi fan, I know that frustration from a show getting cancelled. But then again, X-Files and Buffy would have been better if they were cancelled two years sooner.

    The new season has me thinking along the same lines that you are. I never get caught up in character romances, but last season I got hooked on Jim and Pam on “The Office”. Will they get together? Well, it’s a sitcom, so almost certainly yes. But there will be a series of comic obstacles keeping them apart until the second-to-last season.

    I think with the internet and DVD’s, we get so much inside information that it detaches us from a show’s fantasy. If a hero dies in a battle, that’s good TV. If he dies because of failed contract negotiations, it doesn’t have the same impact. But you’ve got the right approach in enjoying what’s available.

  • http://www.minewastaller.com Ian Woolstencroft

    Thanks for the reference Matthew, even if you didn’t agree with me.

    I think Nowhere Man is a little different from Invasion and Surface. If I remember it correctly it falls into the ‘Fugitive’ style of series i.e. man on the run has different adventure every week. Now while The Fugitive did have a conclusion (David Janssen found the one armed man) there are several others that didn’t (The Invaders, The Incredible Hulk, Branded, The Quest..) and you are quite right in saying there is much enjoyment to be had from re-watching them (I’d be first in the queue to buy The Quest on DVD if it ever got released.)

    But Invasion and Surface aren’t about a thread running through the series; you can’t watch them as single episodes, their whole purpose is to tell one big epic story. When you talk about the attempt to give Nowhere Man more of a direction after episode 13 causing viewers to turn off (yourself included) you’re making the same point I was.

    For a series to grow it needs to be accessible to new viewers something that both Surface and Invasion failed to do.

  • http://theinsideofmybrain.com Matthew Milam

    “But Invasion and Surface aren’t about a thread running through the series; you can’t watch them as single episodes, their whole purpose is to tell one big epic story.”

    There’s nothing wrong with that, Nowhere Man was the same way. Depending on which point viewers came into it, they could easily be confused (especially if they came in after “Contact”, which aired just after the Christmas episode the next year in ’96)

    “When you talk about the attempt to give Nowhere Man more of a direction after episode 13 causing viewers to turn off (yourself included) you’re making the same point I was.”

    Not really. Larry Herzog, who executive produced the series, never intended that show to be a big story arc. The problem was that the network felt it had to go somewhere towards the answer to the whole plot. In a lesser scope than NW, The Fugitive could have been tinkered with so that Kimble would have found the one-armed man in two years instead of a few more seasons. But as I said with Herzog, it was never his purpose to tell to make that connect to every episode.

    When you look at it, both the Fugitive and NW refered to their main character’s main problems when they were needed. Barry Morse didn’t appear in every episode, and when he did, he never actually was on the road trailing Kimble. If he did, he never did catch him because he’d leave the place he was at minutes earlier.

    Roy Huggins, who produced that based The Fugitive on that Western element of the Wanderer. Nowhere Man is based on the Fugitive, so he kind is the modern-day Kimble (but with a secret organization chasing him instead of a mere police detective).

    it’s also a writer’s preference these days to make big story arcs. While it may irritate the average viewer such as you and I, think about how the writer must feel constantly having to make different plots with the same similar outcome. Even Nowhere Man and The Fugitive ended up on the same tip — they both got away from the people that were chasing them.

    Also with the huge story arcs, networks are looking for something to hook people in for next week. That’s a risk because if episode one sucked, then the rest won’t matter — probably what happened with the two shows you mentioned for alot of viewers.