Top TV Stories of 2006: Everything is serialized
Out of all the serialized shows that premired in 2006, only two -- Jericho and Heroes -- can be thought of as successful shows. What did the networks and the producers of these shows do wrong? I can think of a few reasons, which I'll list after the jump.
People can only commit to a few shows per week: What I mean by "committing" to a show is that a person watches every episode, week in and week out. Procedurals like CSI and Without A Trace work because you can pop in and out of the show, missing episodes, and still be able to follow the action. Other shows with serial elements, like House and Ugly Betty also don't punish their viewers if they miss episodes because, you know, they decide to have a social life.
Serialized shows don't allow for that; miss one episode of Lost, and you'll have a heck of a time trying to catch up. As a result, many viewers shied away from the new set of serialized shows becuase they didn't want to get started with yet another new show that demanded their full attention.
Networks scheduled serials next to and against other serials: Watching shows like Lost tires you out; you have to concentrate so much to make sure you don't miss any of the story, you're not in the mood to watch a similarly intense show afterwards. In that light, it's understandable that viewers didn't even bother watching either Kidnapped or The Nine because Lost left them mentally drained (ABC finally realized this, which is why Lost will air at 10 PM when it returns).
NBC probably also made a fatal mistake scheduling Kidnapped, a very well-made and well-acted show, in the same timeslot as the much-hyped (by me and other critics) The Nine. Audiences skipped over Kidnapped to see The Nine, then didn't like what they saw when that show started (see below). By that time, both shows were doomed.
The concepts of these shows didn't make long-term sense: When Keith and I were previewing the fall pilots in our old APB podcasts, we would repeatedly ask each other what the second seasons of some of these shows would be like. Would there be another kidnapping in the second season of Kidnapped? Would the robbery that's the catalyst for The Nine play out ten minutes at a time for multiple seasons? How long will we wait to find out about the nuclear attack that's at the heart of Jericho?
Some writers seemed to answer that question for us, as the story for Heroes is developing well, but is open-ended, and Jericho concentrates on the interpersonal stories in the town. The Nine is the show that failed in its mission the most; after a riveting pilot, the writers decided to be stingy with details about the robbery, concentrating on the interpersonal stories of the victims. Unlike the case with Jericho, doing that left viewers frustrated and annoyed, and they ran from the show in droves.
Viewers didn't want to be left hanging: Despite assurances from network executives, viewers were wary that they'd get involved with a serial, then be left hanging if the show got cancelled before the story was resolved. There were just way too many examples of that phenomenon from the 2005-06 season to keep viewers from thinking that the rugs would be pulled from under them again.
So instead of getting fleeced again, many viewers decided not to get involved in the first place. And the networks, in their infinite wisdom, justified that behavior; Vanished is gone, The Nine is on "hiatus", and Kidnapped was put on NBC.com, even after the network saying it would at least play out the plot in 13 episodes.
What programming trend do you think the networks are going to run into the ground in 2007? Let me know in the comments.