It’s that time of the year again. Like first-years in college, new shows have arrived, tried to find their place, and made a few mistakes along the way. Now some of them must face elimination.
In the last few weeks, networks have made decisions about, as us Jewish people said on the recent holy day Yom Kippur, “who shall live and who shall die.” Who by bad ratings, and who by production costs. Who by poor time slots, and who by ridiculous ideas.
This season’s biggest new hit has been The X Factor, the new Fox competition show featuring Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Basically, it’s American Idol with a different name. I think the success of this show surprises no one. Americans love a good competition show with familiar judges and the potential for both tragic embarrassment and triumphant success.
And then there are the more surprising shows that have withstood the axe. ABC picked up Revenge and Suburgatory and ordered more episodes for the show Happy Endings. NBC ordered full seasons of Whitney and Up All Night. CBS put its faith in 2 Broke Girls.
Most new shows were not so fortunate. ABC recently canceled the Charlie’s Angels remake set in Miami. NBC canceled its comedy Free Agents about two lost souls in a workplace romance. It also axed the controversial The Playboy Club, a show about the bunnies and patrons of the first Playboy Club in Chicago during the 1960s. CBS has canceled its comedy How to be a Gentleman about two opposite men, one a proper gentleman and the other a “player,” who try to teach each other how to behave.
There seems to me to be a trend in the networks’ leaps of faith and what the viewers are buying. Old ideas don’t seem to be catching on in the way that television executives think they will. While maybe everyone is excited for a Spiderman remake, Charlie’s Angels does not fare so well on television. Audiences have seen it before, and without huge celebrities, it just felt like a last gasp of air for the franchise.
The Playboy Club, which everyone acknowledged was trying to be a sexier Mad Men, could not get good enough ratings to justify the battle NBC had to wage in response to the Parents Television Council (PTC). Most audiences wrote it off as superficial and an excuse to show women’s underwear. Somehow, the controversy never seemed to attract an audience; rather, it just made the show less appealing to the network.
How to be a Gentleman seemed to me like an attempt to give Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother his own TV show. The star of How to be a Gentleman, David Hornsby, looks an awful lot like Neil Patrick Harris and his strict rules about life sound a lot like Barney’s. Yet the show lacks the charm and humor that makes How I Met Your Mother so successful.
Essentially, networks learned quickly that old brands did not have the immediate success that they were expecting. And if people don’t watch the shows for their concepts, then God forbid the shows become good enough to attract viewers based on quality and substance. Reassuringly, however, networks do seem to be taking a few chances on more original shows. No series is really that great in its first season, and luckily, comedies like 2 Broke Girls and Up All Night are being given some time to work through their growing pains.
Television and movies are two totally different worlds. While the old franchise superheroes are bringing in the box office numbers at the theaters, the remakes and stale ideas are floundering on the small screen. And I think this is great. Let television be the place for new ideas and creative expression and let the movies take the big-budget action pictures. They look silly on a television set anyway.