The Terrifying Allure of New Fall TV
As a television-watching kid, the fall season simply meant for me that I’d be getting new episodes of “X-Men: The Animated Series” on Saturday mornings, TGIF would drop the worst show from the previous year and add another lame duck, and my parents could watch “Cheers” again every Thursday. I remained content in the knowledge that my old favorites would recharge with fresh installments while fledgling efforts may or may not curry my favor, but attention span didn’t allow me to notice the programs that had gone missing from my viewing schedule of four months prior.
These days, the late weeks of September bring with them a mixture of bliss and trepidation for my inner couch potato.
In this media-obsessed world we inhabit, handicapping the success of new TV shows has become almost as big a deal as actually, y’know, watching and enjoying (or hating) them. I’m certainly among the guilty when it comes to this, as I love reading books about the television industry like “Desperate Networks” and then treating the new season like a betting pool with my friends and colleagues. But just as my fantasy football league has forever altered the way I watch the game-I can’t believe I’m actually rooting for Peyton Manning-so has this attitude and outlook drastically changed my approach to what I’m going to DVR.
Again, going back to my childhood, I didn’t have a particularly complex thought process when it came to new shows: If it looked good, I watched it, and if it vanished the next year, no biggie (I don’t recall a lot of stuff getting yanked early or mid-season back then, but I’m projecting back to when I was like 12, so I don’t know). Now, I feel like I need a fairly strenuous screening process to avoid heartbreak.
As a semi-late-blooming but devoted fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” my paranoia that my favorite shows could be pulled away from me without resolution or closure at any time began to bubble in the late 90′s into the new millennium, but because those two always seemed to elude cancellation but the skin of their fangs, perhaps I grew a bit cocky and complacent.
In 2004, I became lucky enough to befriend novelist, comic book writer and burgeoning TV scribe Brad Meltzer, who sent me an advance DVD of the first episode of his new show for The WB, “Jack and Bobby.” The program followed two brothers being raised by a single mother and had the conceit of flashing forward each week to a documentary set years in the future chronicling one boy’s rise of the Presidency while keeping quiet on the fate of the other. I found “Jack and Bobby” to be fun and intelligent, presenting politics to me in a way I found interesting and palatable. It had a great cast of veterans like John Slattery-who would go on to “Mad Men”-and Christine Lahti paired with young talents like Matt Long-who would go on to “Mad Men”-and Logan Lerman plus ace recurring guests like Bradley Cooper (and also featured Jessica Pare, who would go on to “Mad Men”-seriously, that show pretty much strip mined “Jack and Bobby”). I saw a strong future for the show.
The WB apparently did not and pulled the plug after an abbreviated season.
It’s the first time I can really recall a show being cancelled out from under me and it left a scar both because I enjoyed the program and because I felt bad my buddy’s virgin effort in TV couldn’t last longer than a year. Nonetheless, I soldiered on.
2005, however, would be my first fall television season in my own apartment, not having to split a TV with my family or college buddies, so I certainly watched much more and got my excitement up over certain shows. In particular, “Kitchen Confidential,” starring the aforementioned Bradley Cooper and based on the memoirs of bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain, received a ton of hype and seemed like a surefire hit. I thought the debut a laugh riot and looked forward to years of laughs to come.
After two episodes, the show got pulled for the World Series, then aired a couple more to horrid ratings and got yanked before the new year.
I got the full series DVD set of “Kitchen Confidential” for Christmas last year, getting to watch a bunch of episodes I’d never seen because they never aired, and I still can’t for the life of me understand why this show didn’t do better (if you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and track it down via Hulu, DVD or whatever). It definitely cut me deeper than “Jack and Bobby” and began to make me very skeptical about trusting new television shows that didn’t have a track record of at least a couple successful seasons under their belt.
While they both got more than a few episodes before going down in their blazes of glory (and in one case Emmys), the mismanagement and cancellation of “Arrested Development” and “Veronica Mars” only strengthened my feeling that entrusting my heart to new TV shows could only end in tragedy. I began to adapt a firm policy of not watching a show until it had been on the air a minimum of one year with solid ratings, catching myself up via DVD before joining live.
This stance lasted less than 12 months.
You see, working at “Wizard Magazine,” I had access to pilot episodes of just about everything; even though we were ostensibly a comic book magazine, we didn’t just get stuff like The CW’s aborted Aquaman show “Mercy Reef,” we’d also receive pretty much anything ABC feared wouldn’t get enough love, or whatever NBC show had even the most tenuous of science fiction connections. Via these free samples, I’d end up falling for everything from “Dirty Sexy Money” to “Gossip Girl” to “Big Shots” (and with that field, I guess one out of three ain’t bad, but man, I really wanted the “‘Desperate Housewives’ for men” show to succeed).
So we arrive at today, and I realize I’m powerless not to try new shows, even when I see the writing on the wall. I caught up on “Party Down” via NetFlix even though I knew better. I watched the first episode of the new Mitchell Hurwitz/Will Arnett collaboration “Running Wilde” last week, chuckled, and the silently shed a tear because that sucker will totally last until May at best.
Oh how I pine for those bygone days when I didn’t care about anything but the “Step by Step” premiere and which new villains Batman would be facing on his cartoon. But I suppose taking a chance on doomed TV shows represent a phase in growing up, and considering all the other overtures in that progression I’ve avoided over the years, I guess taking the bullet on this one can’t be that bad.
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