ain't bad as the Meat Loaf song went. ABC's been taking a lot of flak on the boards (and from me here) for their itchy trigger finger when it comes to canceling quirky, well-written, character-driven shows. This year's been so bad that some were referring to the network as Already Been Cancelled. So I was pleased to hear that ABC has renewed two of midseason replacements that had caught my fancy, Castle and Better off Ted. And while I was disappointed, I can't say that I was surprised that The Unusuals will be joining Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone and Life of Mars in what one TWoP poster described as her "lovely little collection of much-mourned half-season and single season wonders."
None of these shows is a primetime serial (in fact, Better off Ted is a sitcom - sweetly funny, it's well-written with a great heart), two are led by daytime veterans. In fact, the cast of Castle is bursting with faces familiar to soap fans - Nathan Fillion, Susan Sullivan, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Bailey Chase, Joseph C. Phillips. While The Unusals starred Amber Tamblyn, who seems to be attracted to these quirky shows that networks just don't know what to do with. It's been four years since CBS canceled Joan of Arcadia, and I'm still pissed.
It's hard not to see the writing on the wall here: the broadcast networks simply cannot seem to make these shows work with ratings that would be more than adequate on cable. And the economic realties the networks face make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to do for a new show what cable can: Allow the show sufficient time and consistency to attract an audience. That means ordering, and running, a full season (albeit 13 episodes), in the same timeslot, repeating several times and making available On-Demand (well, the networks could do this...). And if after all that, the show fails to attract enough viewers (Trust Me, Saved) cancel it. As opposed, say, to what ABC did to Life on Mars (the gory details are here).
So it seems inevitable that the future of scripted drama will be on cable, for which people pay. And that's fine: those who can't afford cable can rent the DVDs, or borrow them from their library. But when I hear people's willingness to pay for cable cited as a reason for newspapers to abandon print and go totally online and charge, I worry. I live in Boston, where we still don't know if our newspaper of record, The Boston Globe, will survive, so I am all too aware of the struggle for newspapers to find a sustainable economic model in the new digital age. But comparing newspapers to entertainment is specious.
There was a piece on NPR a while back celebrating the tactile pleasures of reading an actual newspapers and lamenting a future without them. But if newspapers abandon print and go exclusively online for only those who can pay the loss is more than tactile. How many times have you read a paper someone left on a bus, subway or café? My bank has a little sitting area where I often see those down-on-their-luck reading the Globe and the Times the bank provides. Same thing at the library. What happens when there's no paper in newspaper? I know I've wandered a little far a field here, but much as I love television drama, access to the news is essential for the well-informed citizenry necessary for a democratic society. I hope that fact doesn't get lost in the shuffle.
© 2009 Lynn Liccardo
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only. Lynn Liccardo
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