“This time, you can trust me,” Lucy says to Charlie Brown, enticing him into their eternal battle of wills – kick the football and I won’t pull it away this time, I promise.
I love t.v. I love narrative in general and I get hooked into the story structures of t.v. shows over and over and over again. Even a “reality” show like Survivor has all the classic story elements that I crave and enjoy.
But I have been frustrated more and more the last few years. Here’s why:
– I have a busy schedule and like most people my age, I can’t be locked into watching a t.v. show at the same set time every week. Luckily, most shows are available online within 6-12 hours (sometimes a full day or week) later and I catch up with my “stories” when I have the time, which is often just a few hours or maybe a day or two after the original airing.
– The online viewing model seems to me an excellent one. I am still viewing advertisements, which should still be paying for the shows. In fact, I feel that I’m a more captive audience for online ads than the ones on my t.v. because I tend to walk away from the t.v. during commercials. I am watching the show at my convenience. Excellent, all around. But I’m not sure the Nielsen rating system is still in any way an accurate schematic (I don’t know how it could be) and to my knowledge, nothing else has replaced it. So how do networks know what shows I’m giving my loyalty and attention to? Theoretically, they should be able to track the downloads and online viewings, right?
– Yet, some of my favorite new shows are consistently getting canceled, sometimes mid-season or after only one season. This breeds a vicious cycle that makes me and other viewers wary of investing in new shows. Why care about characters that might suddenly disappear, give our attention to stories that will remain unfinished? But what are a studio’s “obligations” to the viewers of its shows? I feel like a full season should be a standard network-viewer “contract.” Promising shows should really get two seasons to build their audience. Yes, it’s expensive. However, as far as I’m concerned, so is my time and my attention.
You might ask what has brought about this rant. Monday, the list of canceled t.v. shows was disseminated. First, it includes 32 shows across the networks, which is quite a lot. Also, it features some great new shows that I feel weren’t given a solid chance. Last, there are many shows on this list that I thought were already canceled several months ago because of reports I’ve read in the past.
I’ll break down the list for you.
Canceled shows I didn’t invest in because I figured they’d be canceled:
Better with You, Mr. Sunshine, Off the Map (ABC); Perfect Couples (NBC)
Shows I might’ve watched, but thought were already canceled or off the air ages ago because of reports I read, so clearly their networks were not doing a whole lot to support them:
My Generation, Detroit 1-8-7, No Ordinary Family, V (ABC); The Event and Outsourced (NBC); Lone Star and Running Wilde (FOX); Life Unexpected (CW)
Canceled shows that had a really solid chance to build their audience (regardless of how you feel about the quality of the shows and their demise):
Brothers and Sisters (ABC); Friday Night Lights (NBC); Human Target and Lie to Me (FOX); $#*! My Dad Says (CBS); Smallville (CW)
Canceled shows I’d watch if they were given a second chance:
Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC); The Event (NBC)
Canceled shows I’m really pissed about because I’d invested in them:
Breaking In and Traffic Light (FOX)
FOX has long been guilty of creating pretty good shows and then scrapping them before they’ve had a solid chance, in my opinion. Keep in mind, FOX also airs two of the shows I talk about most, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, but those are reality competitions and I don’t know that FOX has worked out their dynamic for scripted dramas and sitcoms. Out of all the networks on the list, FOX is canceling the most good shows, I think. Many on the FOX list had a good chance to sink or swim, but I think Breaking In and Traffic Light should be given more time. They are both hysterical half hour ensemble sitcoms, which I think we need more of on t.v. Good ones, that is.
So what are the networks gonna do next season? Give us 50 new shows, two thirds of which they’re prepared to sacrifice if we don’t invest quickly enough? Break our hearts again? Yank the football once more before we can kick a good, solid field goal? FOX, as well as all the networks, needs to create good shows and then stand by them. Have some faith in what you create, Networks.
Now, on to the slightly related topic of the Castle finale, appropriately titled “Knockout.” How is this related to my giant rant above? Well, first of all, it’s still about t.v. Second of all, one of Castle’s stars, Nathan Fillion was in not one but two shows that fell victim to FOX’s wishy-washiness (Drive and, ahem, Firefly, anyone?). Third, the finale happened to air on the same day the canceled show list was disseminated.
Castle is a fun, gripping show, a worthy vehicle for Nathan, finally, at long last, hallelujah, on a network that will support the show and create interest with tie-ins (novels, graphic novels, etc). It’s one of my favorite shows, especially because it has such a great cast and also all the qualities I loved about Bones in the earlier seasons. I’m still watching Bones because I love the characters, but it’s lost some of its sheen.
One of the elements I like best about Castle is that it is unafraid to be cheesy and emotional and sometimes feels like a sitcom wrapped up in a drama. This feels like old-fashioned, classic t.v., even while it is cutting edge. So it shouldn’t surprise me that every part of Castle‘s Season 3 finale felt inevitable in that way that good storytelling always feels. While the storyteller in me can appreciate the Castle finale’s unflinching and yes, even cruel twists, the viewer in me feels absolutely shellshocked, almost betrayed. And pissed. Pissed that they punched me the guts like three times in an hour and then walked away for several months, leaving me nursing my wounds and dying for more.
But you know what? You better bet I’ll be tuning in next season. And for that, I must congratulate them.
For a moment at the end of “Knockout,” in light of the canceled show list, I was very afraid that this was the end, that Castle was one of the unlisted “bubble” shows and it might not be back. I had to remind myself that it’s a popular show and that ABC has just as much invested in it as I have invested (some would say more). But that fear, that paranoia, is the best example that I can give you of what the networks have done to us with their “yanking back the football” behavior.
Should I, like Charlie Brown, continue to trust all the Lucys promising me big and then yanking it all away? Despite all the times that I have been burned and lost “stories” that I loved, should I trust the networks? Like Charlie Brown, I hate looking stupid by falling for it again and again, but just like him, there’s no other choice for me. I love stories too much not to take the kick of faith every time.