Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Why does good TV fail?

I recently became a fan of a television show that had already gone off the air before I saw a single episode. The creator of the show had reassembled the cast and made a feature film. Before I saw the film, which I expected to like, I wanted some background in case there were inside jokes or bits that would make more sense if I knew the show. The movie is Serenity (if you hurry, you might still catch it in theaters) and the show is Firefly.

Both are the brainchildren of Joss Whedon, the writer who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I was already a fan of those shows and expected to like Firefly, but BtVS and Angel both take place in the same universe. Firefly is a new creation, still full of Whedon's excellent writing, but in it he looks at the world(s) a little differently. I won't go into a review of the show, other than to say it's good, it's available on DVD , and you should try to watch an episode or two.

What I want to say is that Fox, which used to stand behind its innovative shows, treated it very poorly. The show was scheduled for Friday night, the episodes were shown out of order, disrupting continuity, it was preempted for baseball after two episodes, and the pilot was shown dead last. Very few shows would have produced decent ratings with this type of treatment, and Fox unceremoniously canceled it for low ratings.

If you look at some of the breakout hits, shows that everyone knows by name, you will find that many of them struggled in their first season (or longer). The X-Files, Everybody Loves Raymond, Cheers all took time for an audience to warm to them, and then ran for many years, becoming the backbone of their network. Does this mean that every poorly rated show would rise to that level given enough time? Of course not. Bu there are very few original ideas on television these days. We have three versions of CSI, uncountable Law & Order spin-offs, multiple Apprentices, OC-like dramas and I'm sure we'll soon have more Desperate Housewife clones than we can bear. Television always wants to copy someone else's original show, without letting its own original gel and rise to its potential.

Where am I going with this? I don't know. I guess it's just a rant. A really good idea has been snuffed out. I hear that Whedon was able to sign a three picture deal. I hope that Serenity has been successful enough to allow him to make the next two. He created a world that I liked to visit and would like to see more of. You should too.

You can rent it from Netflix.