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The Cancellation of Good TV Shows

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Lone Star became this season’s first cancellation, after an epic run of two episodes. Struggling to garner high enough ratings, it seemed inevitable that FOX would kick it out. I had only hoped the show would get a little more time to prove itself.

Shows like Lone Star are few and far between these days; it was probably one of the best new shows this season. It was certainly different from the others, with a plot that had a morally ambiguous protagonist attempting to juggle a life as a conman while being in love with two women at the same time.

But for such a show to successfully compete with the likes of Dancing with the Stars and Two and Half Men was unrealistic. It was always going to find it hard to attract so many viewers right off the bat. Good shows are hard to find and it is even harder for a good show to find enough viewers when it doesn’t follow the regular formula.

In short, Lone Star was on the wrong network at the wrong time, competing with established shows which could never be displaced.

The emphasis on TV ratings depresses me. Too often good shows, many of which have rabid followers, are left out because the ratings say they underperform. Just ask fans of Firefly, also canceled by FOX after less than one season, or Arrested Development which happily lasted somewhat longer.  By judging shows from the quantity of live viewership, television networks do face a danger of recycling the same ideas and losing out on good new ones.

Of course, the popularity of a show does matter. It is, after all, all about advertising. But advertising is also about finding the right markets. Are the TV networks and advertisers really not willing to go after a niche, but loyal, market rather than a very general and distracted mass market?

Furthermore, television shows don’t just cater to the audience’s needs, they also help create those very needs. It requires farsightedness and an appreciation of creative thought to able to both hold on to great shows and ideas and also to give the audience time and space to evolve and love them.

There have always been exceptions to the case of myopic TV networks, which only serves to bolster my case. Cheers is one of the highest profile examples to this point. In terms of ratings, it ranked really low in its first season and ran the risk of being canned. But NBC stuck with it, and soon enough it moved up to the top of the ratings. In those crucial initial years, it helped for the show to have the support of the TV executives at NBC, it also didn’t hurt that they won a lot of critical acclaim and a couple of Emmy Awards..

On today’s TV landscape, I would point to an intelligent comedy like 30 Rock which competes with, and only manages half the ratings of, the really mediocre new comedy $#*! My Dad Says. Critics have always liked 30 Rock, it was even voted the best comedy show of the decade (2000-2010) by Newsweek. Furthermore, it was nominated for 22 Emmy Awards in 2009, the highest number ever for a comedy show. The show is a high quality program and as such holds on to its loyal base of fans. It is certainly heartening to see a network both recognize such quality and allow the show to continue even if it doesn’t deliver the highest ratings.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about a lot of other networks. TV networks do hold on to great power in our times, and with it inherit some responsibilities as well. They are the ones who decide on the creative content for the masses and provide incentives to the creators of TV shows. I do not believe it would be fulfilling to live in a society which ends up with creatively bankrupt entertainment and where there is no incentive to be innovative.

The TV networks need to give non-formulaic shows a chance, and maybe heed a little to the critics who, though they may not represent the general public, can certainly rate the creative merits of a show. Shows like Lone Star certainly deserve better.

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About P Chandra

  • Tc

    Lone Star was good show.
    I loved how well they had paced the show in the first two episodes.

    I do hope it is revived somehow …