Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Makes a TV Show Successful?

"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

-Dylan Thomas

What makes a TV show a success? Is it the writing? The cast? The look and feel of the show? Originality? Well, if any of these were the case, "Firefly" would've lasted more than the 12 aired, 14 filmed episodes. It took 3 years for the show to get a big-screen reboot, and, but for some minor changes needed for transition, the movie was even better. Not that it mattered much at the box-office. And yet the DVD sales were rather good.

The show itself has, in time, rounded up quite the fan-base (I'd expect nothing else from a space western full of colourful characters). But I fear that leads nowhere. From my point of view the whole "Firefly" universe is dead and gone as far as live action TV and movies go. To have it any other way would be unfair to everyone involved. The timing is off.

But I'm not writing this for "Firefly"'s sake. I'm using it as a pretext to dig into some cancelled, some revived shows and the reasons behind. What makes a TV show a success? Devoted fans. It's the only possible answer. And even that is not enough at times.

Case in point: "Jericho". Now there's a show I liked, from the moment I saw the pilot. It had little action in its hour run, a lot of characters thrown at us, and a slow pace. But you could see it was building up to something. And the last episode of the first season proved to me it had potential(an all out skirmish between two small towns post-nuclear holocaust does have its appeal). The CBS folks didn't agree and cancelled the show. But fans were so nuts about the show they proved it. Flooded with the seed, the execs brought back the show, on a trial run. 7 episodes were to test the show's potential. But to be honest, despite a hardcore fan base of about 5 or so million people who tuned in every week, the network had already made up their mind and those 7 episodes were a sad, yet necessary goodbye to the show.

That isn't always the case. Sometimes fans get their wish and the shows endure. Like with "Family Guy" (in this case Fox stands to make a bundle from the highly popular animated show, and they're greedy enough to step on their pride, "The Simpsons" are a good example of how far they'd go), or "Cagney&Lacey" which remained on the air 4 more seasons than the 2 previously aired. Sometimes the TV shows die, but DVD movies are born. E.g. : "Stargate SG-1" (though having outlived its charm somewhere in the middle of the 6th season, continued to provide some above average episodes until its 10th season cancellation) lived to fight another day on DVD with not one but 2 movies, providing all fans with much needed closure; "Futurama" has its own future on DVD with a bunch of movies having been made or being made (how can you not like an ass kicking sexy one eyed mutant and a drunk immoral robot working for a delivery company? ).

Other times shows die, after just one season, maybe less. As was the case with the largely unknown "Day Break". Good cast, good premise, well executed, not attractive enough to the general public. Though cancelled, the 13 episodes were wholesome enough not to leave us wanting more, yet saddened that we weren't going to.

And a lot of times a show's popularity strips it of all decency. Yes, I'm talking about none other than the soapy(and soon to get even more melodramatic) "Prison Break". Despite a good cast (I'm looking at you Robert Knepper and William Fichtner) and an original plot (as far as the first season goes), the show has outworn its welcome by 2 seasons, and it's looking forward to its fourth. In retrospect they shouldn't have called it prison break, unless they are keen on throwing the main characters in prison every so often (I'd suggest Asia next, if they're going by continents).

What makes a TV show successful? Luck.

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