Lunchtable TV Talk: Premature cancellation

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Do shows fail to find an audience because of (lack of or bad) marketing? Because today there is too much to choose from or just because the masses have questionable taste? (I know this to be true, and this is why I don’t much buy into the “wisdom of the crowd” or focus groups or anything that relies on tipping point-pleasing everyone logic. I, and most of my friends, are not the mass in the middle that wants to see lame singing contests on TV every night of the week or who once wanted more and more stuff like Fear Factor or Survivor or Big Brother. We’re not the ones who thought the title/concept of Big Brother was conceived with the reality show debacle that reality show “moment” spawned. We know exactly where Big Brother came from – and we know that Big Brother like tactics are exactly what are used to inform network decisions on TV cancellation.

So yeah… what about all those pleasant and sometimes fantastic shows that never found their audience, despite finding a voice?

I am sure there is a long list of television shows that I have loved – that you have loved – that saw a premature end. Then there are shows aplenty that started but could not end soon enough because they sucked that much.

Quite a few shows from past seasons were cancelled but were lovely: The Bridge, Better Off Ted, Lone Star, Party Down, Terriers. I still miss them sometimes when I think of them. And then there are some, like the hilarious The Brink on HBO. It was renewed during the first season’s run and sometime before the second season would have happened… HBO pulled the plug! I am miffed about that one and may yet be for a good while.

Somewhere in the middle were shows that were average and entertaining without being must-see. Or shows that glimmered with flashes of promise. And some things were just steadily decent.

I lament the loss of some of these – Gang Related had people like Cliff Curtis (a veteran of film of TV, who is currently a lead in Fear the Walking Dead); Terry O’Quinn (who will always make a sandwich of the bread-and-butter law enforcement style roles he commands); Jay Karnes (who is just the coolest guy in usually uncool roles). Most of these people will work no matter what. But it’s a shame when a cast comes together and works well but does not get a chance to see where it might go.

About a Boy is another similar show. Minnie Driver was sweet. Al Madrigal was silly. And overall it might have been a little mushy, but it was a mush not unlike a slightly sweet applesauce – easy to swallow and pleasant. Yes, I know – I seriously compared a TV show to applesauce.

And then I reflect on other show that I don’t miss but am not sure they would not have turned out okay – Monday Mornings, Taxi Brooklyn?

And then some, like Happy Endings, was vocally mourned by a lot of critics, who felt it was underrated – but I found it only rarely funny, often irritating and a lot less clever, funny or endearing than the aforementioned About a Boy. But still, it too might have been cancelled too soon.

But most of the actors involved in these undertakings landed on their feet elsewhere or already had well-established bearings.

Do we lose out on some of these things because we’ve hit peak TV? There’s too much to choose from or we have slow and poor attention spans? If that were true, the losses of some of these things would not still linger so many months and years after their demise.

The Latest TV Ticking Time Bombs: Bunheads & Lone Star

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Recently I decided to spend some time watching TV shows that did not last.

First up – Bunheads. The title alone put me off, and then the fact that the creator is one and the same guilty party responsible for The Gilmore Girls. I know Gilmore was a really popular, beloved show – but for all the chances I gave it, I could not get into it. I realized eventually that it’s just Lauren Graham I don’t like (at all), not the show. (Graham seems to play a version – without much variation – of the same kind of ditzy, neurotic, irresponsible and not-put-together person in everything she is in.) I enjoyed the first few episodes of Bunheads, but eventually it grated on my nerves. I enjoyed some of the pop-culture references (they’re everywhere! Notably, I enjoyed a nice reference to Stringer Bell from The Wire and a couple of references to the worst movie ever, Footloose, which seems to be an uncontrolled phenomenon on TV these days, most recently on Modern Family). and some of the rapid-fire dialogue, although this trademark rapid-fire talk is part of what eventually grates. No one talks this way in reality, and if they did, I would be tempted to commit some kind of assault.

Alas, Bunheads lasted for just one season, so I only needed to plow through a limited assortment… relief. On the whole, even though I was relieved when the end came, I think it was an entertaining show while it lasted. It’s hard to tell whether the show was gone too soon or was around just long enough.

Another show that had an almost criminally limited run was Lone Star. It lasted for only two episodes (yes – two episodes!), so it is not possible to assess whether it was good or not. It had promise, though, and it only started to show. I decided to watch the two existing episodes because of James Wolk since it’s hard not to love the guy after watching his roles in Mad Men, Political Animals and more recently The Crazy Ones (by far the best aspects of that mediocre show). Wolk’s role in Lone Star seems to have been training ground for his role as Bob on Mad Men. (His character’s name in Lone Star, coincidentally enough, was “Bob” also.) Wolk’s role in Lone Star as the ultimate con man was not quite believable yet, especially for a guy who had supposedly been pulling cons all his life. Actually, maybe his performance was spot-on because no matter how long his character had been living his lifelong con, he was never comfortable with it. Lone Star’s Bob fooled a lot of people – the too-cute smile and slightly awkward charm – would not have been enough to carry him through the kinds of cons he was successfully running – not slick enough to mask his reality. By the time Wolk walked into the role of Bob Benson in Mad Men, he had mastered the cool, easy veneer and milquetoast cover that made Benson seem non-threatening and ultimately outstanding. But we only got two episodes of Lone Star. I am tempted to call it a gem – but we did not get enough of it to really find out.