Quirky, Interesting Series Vanish from the Big 4

I haven’t chatted about television in a while but trust me, we’re still watching an awful lot of it.

We’ve seen the first two episodes of Dollhouse and I see it struggling to find its voice.  Missing to date is the snappy Joss Whedon dialogue and memorable characters that populated his other productions.  So far, the most Whedon-like character is Topher Brink, the technical genius who reprograms all the actives. Some of the other characters such as Echo’s handler, Boyd Langton, show flashes of being engaging but I find myself disappointed by Paul Ballard, the FBI agent trying to provide the elusive Dollhouse organization exists.

While produced by star Eliza Dushku, she actually isn’t making the most out of the acting challenges each story provides.  She isn’t showing anywhere near the range Echo calls for and maybe she’ll grow over time.  Recently, she said the show really gets into gear by episode six and with luck, we’ll still have a chance to see it.

As feared, Fox sticking it on Friday nights meant low ratings.  Coupling it with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a smart move and having it on when geeks are home to watch Battlestar Galactica — currently the best drama on television — was logical.  The ratings, of course, have been lackluster but the Hollywood Reporter noted yesterday that once the DVR ratings are factored in, both shows are seeing a nice bump.

DVR ratings are calculated two different ways, broadcast plus three days and plus seven days.  Live+7 DVR data, as it is know, showed a 30% increase in viewership of the pilot. The return of Terminator also received a 36% bump.  Those are significant gains, enough to justify Fox keep both shows for now.

Fox also showed faith in Dollhouse by making it the second series, after the wonderful Fringe, to have limited commercial breaks, charging a premium.  A piece in the New York Times a week or so back noted that the jury was still out on the success of the practice but as a viewer, I certainly applaud fewer ads taking me out of the story for several minutes.

I noted over at ComicMix that an era of television was coming to a close this year as quirky, different and experimental prime time dramas were falling to the wayside, victims of viewer indifference. We’ve already lost Pushing Daisies and Eli Stone and now ABC has said that Life on Mars is also going away.  At least the producers are being time to wrap up Sam Tyler’s story with a finale.  The show takes a break in April and the final five, I gather, will air soon after.

ABC deserves kudos for trying all three series and sticking with them as long as possible as the economy deteriorated around them.  I also give them credit for letting all three series wrap their stories (along with Dirty Sexy Money).  Of course, none of the already gone series have scheduled air dates for these finales but we know they will eventually be released on line and on disc allowing diehard fans have a chance for closure.

I am sorry to see attempts at telling different kinds of stories fail.  It makes me worry about Michael Green’s Kings, which debuts later this month.  That may be the most experimental show yet and after being high on it, slotting it to replacing ER, it’s now being dumped on Sundays against ABC powerhouse Brothers & Sisters.

The big four channels seem to be ceding the creative chance-taking to both Basic and Premium cable.  That’s a shame since it means the largest audience is being deprived of the most interesting and in many cases, the best produced shows on television.

One comment

  • Kevin Dilmore

    Really? Life on Mars is going away? Crap, this is the first I’ve heard of it. But then again, as much as I enjoy the show, knowing it has an ending makes it even more fulfilling for me. By its nature, the premise is sustainable for a limited time. To drag it out longer than dramatically necessary, Life on Mars would have become Twin Peaks with the Laura Palmer murder around its neck.

    Speaking of Kings, I’m looking forward to Harper’s Island, and that feels kind of experimental. Thoughts?

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