Not including the comedies, I’ve watched 27 pilots this year, I’m discounting the sitcoms, ‘cos I’ve finally come to the realisation that I just don’t like them. Of those 27 I ended up watching the whole season of eight of those shows and partially watching another two of them before giving up. There are seven shows that I might pick up at some point and that leaves eleven that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Twelve of the shows have been cancelled, most of the ones I wasn’t going to bother with and a few of the ones I did.
The successes this year have been quite spectacular, Glee and The Good Wife have both been critical and popular success. Both are refreshing and enjoyable, the difference being that The Good Wife is really rather good, and Glee is really rather terrible. NCIS: LA meanwhile has been a big hit ratings-wise and is pretty entertaining. It delivered exactly what it promised as a cash in on a successful franchise and, for me, outshone its older sibling.
Stargate Universe has been a big success for sci-fi channel, managing to breathe new life into the 16 year old Stargate franchise without pissing off the old fans. I was critical of the pilot, but actually mostly impressed by the series as a whole and am looking forward to next season. White Collar was enjoyable, well written, with some great characters and has been a success for the relatively small channel it’s shown on. I enjoyed watching it, but it’s not quite remarkable enough to have spurred me to start watching the second season yet.
I don’t really mean the bad shows here (that’s saved for the ugly section) more the things that didn’t work.
I was disappointed at the cancellations of Trauma and Defying Gravity, both of which I thought were well made, different, interesting and never really given a chance. Meanwhile V and Caprica I gave multiple chances and eventually gave up on (for reasons I explained in more detail over here).
There’s a number of other shows in my ‘might watch at some point’ list where I liked the pilots a lot, but just didn’t quite have sufficient enthusiasm to keep watching. A few didn’t quite have enough spark (Life Unexpected and Parenthood), a couple I just didn’t quite get along with (Justified and The Good Guys) and a couple were too cheesy even for me (The Gates and Vampire Diaries). Human Target is a tolerable addition to the genre of ‘cheesy, mindless, disposable action’, but I tend to satisfy my cravings for that through movies where the actors are better looking.
The other show I’m going to put in the ‘bad’ category is Treme. I just didn’t get on with it. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t know who anyone was, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I didn’t particularly like the music and generally found the whole thing a bit depressing. But the reason that I’m putting it in the ‘bad’ category, not the ‘ugly’ is because I think I’m probably missing something, I think it’s entirely probable the show is wonderful and that I just don’t get it. My loss, but life’s too short for me to watch something I didn’t like.
There’s been some pretty public and miserable showings (FlashForward, I’m looking at you). The number of cancelled shows, some of which had big names, big budgets and big promotion behind them is a bit shameful. I feel quite smug about the fact that almost all the shows that I decided not to watch have been cancelled.
The biggest genre of casualties were the procedurals, Medical shows Miami Medical and Three Rivers only made it to 13 episodes, Mercy and Trauma at least it saw out the season, but neither was renewed. Legal show The Deep End couldn’t compare to it’s much more mature sibling The Good Wife and crime procedurals The Forgotten and Past Lives were doomed from the start with a terrible title and terrible premise respectively.
The other cancellations weren’t really any big surprise to anyone I don’t think. Happy Town suffered from trying too hard to be Twin Peaks and being dumped into the unforgiving summer schedules. I didn’t mind the pilot, but it was obvious from the start it wasn’t going to see out its storyline, so why bother watching at all, and yes, I do realise that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve no idea what went wrong with Eastwick, but I wasn’t particularly enthused about the pilot, and I guess no one else was either. The Beautiful Life: TBL meanwhile had so many things wrong with it, the mystery is how it ever got on the screen to start with.
What about next year?
Everyone is looking for the next CSI, the next Grey’s Anatomy and the next Lost, and marketing departments aren’t doing the shows any favours by trying to push the similarities. After this year where everyone was trying to copy the recent smash hits, the networks seem to have just gone back to the people who created those hits in the first place and asked them “please could we have some more”. Next season has a new medical series from Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), a new police drama from Shawn Ryan (The Shield), a new legal thing from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) and spin-offs in the shape of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour and Law & Order: Los Angeles. It seems everyone’s playing it safe and sticking with what, and who, they know.
Of course the holy grail isn’t to emulate, but to innovate – to come up with the new foundation of a franchise, or something so wildly different it breaks genres. It could be that a period where TV is going through massive changes in the way it’s watched, distributed and paid for and everyone is looking at their accountants nervously isn’t the best time to take a chance, but maybe with the unbelievable success of Glee, network executives will be a little bit more willing to take a chance. The line between genius and rubbish is pretty thin and I’m looking forward to seeing things on both sides of the line when pilots start up again in just a few weeks.