Saturday, February 27, 2010

Favorite Short-Lived Shows, Part 2

6. Miss Match (NBC, 2003): How this show didn't take off is one of the biggest mysteries of my life. Well, not really, but you'll understand what I mean soon. Miss Match was created by Darren Starr (Sex and the City, original Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210) and starred Alicia Silverstone in her first role on television as a matrimonial lawyer who doubled as a matchmaker for wealthy clients. What could be wrong? Beloved, cute star: check. Successful creator: check. Romantic comedy plotline: check. Seriously, this should have been a hit.

But once again, we have a promising series relegated to the deathslot: Fridays at 8:00. Why do networks do this? Friday nights should be reserved for cheap, reality fare; these suits can't possibly expect to successfully launch an original series aimed toward young audiences on a night when those very same viewers are not at home. It just doesn't make sense to me.

In the case of Miss Match, the talent is clearly there: this show launched the career of Psych's James Roday and provided a nice "Welcome back!" to Firefly's Nathan Fillion, plus it featured Charisma Carpenter in her first role post-Angel and Ryan O'Neal in his first regular TV role since Peyton Place. What gives? Silverstone was even nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, although it seemed to be too little too late. NBC canceled Miss Match after only 11 of its 18 episodes aired, and it has never been seen since. Perhaps the caliber of talent involved outshined the content; the concept was overly simple, but that should've worked in its favor, since intelligent and/or unusual series don't even usually last 11 episodes. The whole thing is just one big question mark.

7. Surface (NBC, 2005-2006): So by now I'm sure you've realized that I'm a fan of "genre" shows: the weird, the sci-fi, the superantural. You've probably also realized that the successes of these shows are few-and-far-between. Buffy and Angel are two of the very few examples of successful genre shows; Surface is yet another example of an unsuccessful genre show. It was an epic tale of something brewing beneath the surface of the world's oceans, namely a new breed of scary sea creatures. We get personal stories from several viewpoints, including a marine biologist (played by Lake Bell, of Miss Match shame) who is the first to encounter the animal and a boy who finds a very young one and keeps it in his family's pool. The mystery that unfolded was riveting, including a government conspiracy (of course), the possibility of extra-terrestrials, and a huge storm that threatens civilization. The season finale was a ridiculous cliffhanger, and it was implied by NBC that there would be more episodes once the Winer Olympics were finished. Unfortunately, that never happened.

Once again, this series' cancellation is a mystery to me. It was originally intended as miniseries, but positive ratings saw it extended into a full series. Its ratings were decent (ranging from 2.6-3.8 in the 18-49 demo, numbers NBC would kill for these days), yet it was unceremoniously canceled after only fifteen episodes. Canceled is actually the wrong word: it was just not renewed. NBC didn't care enough to say outright "Surface is canceled" after implying it would be returning sometime after the Olympics. It's yet another confusing situation from the Peacock; looking back at some of these decisions, it's no wonder the network is floundering years later.

8. The Book of Daniel (NBC, 2006): This controversial primetime soap was a midseason replacement for NBC. It was about an Episcopal priest, his dysfunctional children (one gay, one with a criminal record, one adopted), his marital problems and his own prescription drug abuse. It's basically the same plot as any soap opera, but this time it focused on a man of the cloth and his flaws. It addressed issues of hate crimes, drug abuse, mental health, and much more. It was really a beautifully handled premise, especially the scenes in which Daniel (Aidan Quinn) had philosophical debates with a disinterested Jesus about his addiction. But since most people (read: the Bible Belt) are uncomfortable with any portrayal of priests as flawed and even more uncomfortable with the portrayal of God as anything less than what they have dreamed up, this series was short-lived due to controversy.

NBC could not sell advertising due to protests from several religious groups. The ratings were very good, however, especially considering it was on Fridays at 8:00 (are we sensing another theme?) and that many NBC affiliates refused to air it. I'm sure the controversy helped, but without any cash flowing in there simply wasn't a show. The Book of Daniel was canceled after only three weeks on the air. We are left with only a glimmer of the beauty of what might have been, including some truly heartbreaking performances from Aidan Quinn, Christian Campbell and Alison Pill. But the bottom line is that this series showed real life. Daniel was a priest, but he was also a man; he had problems like all of us, and this series dared to show them to us. Unfortunately, the close-mindedness of Americans kept others from seeing it.

9. Drive (Fox, 2007): This show had the most confusing run ever. Just now I was looking it up to see how its ratings were (assuming that was the reason it was pulled so quickly 3 years ago), and I saw that it aired 4 episodes in just 8 days. That just didn't sound right, but it was. And the ratings weren't that bad, either. And the worst part? There were only 2 more episodes to air! Why did Fox pull it just two weeks early? It's such a bizarre situation, and I still don't understand it. If you order 13 episodes of a show and then cut it to 6, you should either commit to airing all 6 or not air it all and eat the losses. Just my opinion. Anyway, Drive followed a group of people forced to compete in a cross-country race, all for different reasons. We find out the main character (Nathan Fillion in yet another failed series) is there because his wife was kidnapped, and she will only be returned if he races; another character is fresh out of prison for armed robbery (literally, he is given the invitation to race with his personal belongings as he leaves the prison); another has a terminal illness and wants to race because it will be his final thrill in life. The characters were fascinating, and finding out how they were all connected was one of the many things I was looking forward to.

But this show was on Fox, so naturally it was canceled prematurely. We never figured out why they were all racing, who organized it, how they were all connected, what the ultimate goal was, etc. Every question opened up in the pilot was still present in the final episode. You know what I call that? Bullshit. Seriously, Fox... just stop greenlighting serialized shows if you're going to cancel them before the viewers get any closure. Imagine Lost getting canceled after the fourth episode... how pissed would you be? Now you understand.

10. North Shore (Fox, 2004-2005): I really should have just called this list "Shows that Fox Pissed On, and the Fans Who Will Never Forgive Them for It." This little soap was about a hotel and resort in Hawaii and the people who ran it. It was basically an excuse to put beautiful people in a beautiful location. Writing was secondary to shots of the island, but that didn't matter. Because we all know that primetime soaps are addictive, whether or not they're good. If a show had to be good in order for me to love it, I'd be watching less than half of what I do. This show was pure, mindless fun; for that, I loved it. Nevermind the fact that it featured Shannen Doherty's return to TV, it was just stupid entertainment that never bored me.

But let's remind ourselves that this is a show on Fox and that I liked it. So inevitably it ended with a cliffhanger and with just one more episode to air. Why, oh, why can't Fox just air these episodes? How many times must they torture me with the prospect of just one more episode that I will never get to see? Granted, it did do terribly in the ratings and almost no one watched it. But then why commit to a full season in the first place? Clearly I don't understand the ins and outs of running a network.

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