Cancellations good and bad

We’re coming up on the time in the television calendar known as the ‘up-fronts’ it’s where the various networks introduce their schedules for the following year, it helps them sell advertising and also sell to the international broadcasters. In the weeks leading up to the presentations, news and announcements start to trickle through not only about the new shows, but also the old shows which are being cancelled to make space in the schedules. Watching the news roll in made me think about shows I loved and lost and I realised that while there were a number that I really missed and who’s cancellations made me angry, there were a surprising number that I actually accepted happily.

Five cancellations which made me cross…

1Firefly
I’ve written plenty about why I think Firefly is one of the greatest shows of all time, and in many ways maybe the reason it will forever live in people’s memories as such is that was cancelled so early. In fact it was pretty much doomed from the start, miss-marketed and mucked about by the networks – it never really had a chance. Inevitable though it may have been, it didn’t make me swear any less when the announcement came in though.

2The West Wing
You might say that at seven seasons The West Wing had a pretty good run at it and I should be happy with what I got. But the frustration was that after a disappointing couple of years, season 7 was really turning things around. Preparing to re-launch itself with a new president, a new bipartisanism and new characters, season 8 would have been West Wing: The Next Generation. That we didn’t get to live with President Santos is compensated for by the knowledge that the character was partly inspired by a young senator named Barrack Obama.

3Wonderfalls
Wonderfalls was just one of a string of series from Bryan Fuller that died the death (Pushing Daisies is listed below, Dead Like Me almost made the ‘disappointed’ list, and Heroes almost made the ‘not so much’ list). The first episode introduces Jay, a cynical philosophy graduate who lives in a trailer and tries to avoid her crazy family. Then a small toy lion starts talking to her and giving cryptic instructions that eventually seem to help people out. It was weird, but had some great characters, a real charm and was hilariously funny. It was pulled off the air after only four episodes and I was very cross.

4Angel
Angel was similar to The West Wing in that after a few years things were getting a little stale and there had been some miss-steps with storylines. But they were turning things around, introducing a new situation, new characters (although not necessarily new actors) and a new mission. Personally, I found it breathed new life into the show, and many agreed with me because the ratings actually went up. Sadly it seems that a spectacular amount of internal politics at the network caused the show to be rather unexpectedly cancelled. At least they were able to wrap up their stories, and Angel got to fight his dragon.

Carnivàle
Carnivàle was a peculiar series, set in a dustbowl era freakshow with a complicated and intricate plot centred on the battle between good and evil and the very nature of those labels. The problem is we will never know how the battle would develop, what all the subtext and hints were leading up to, because the show was cancelled two years into its six year plan, making the first two seasons feel a bit of a waste of time.

… and five that I didn’t mind
1Veronica Mars
The first season of Veronica Mars is one of the best seasons of television ever made. The second wasn’t quite as good. The third was worse still. In a desperate attempt to save his at risk show Rob Thomas proposed a few years into the future to when Veronica is a new agent with the FBI. The problem was that in making that proposal he lost my support, because he declared that Veronica would be the only character to make the jump. Without her dad to stable her and Logan to unbalance her, I wasn’t really that interested.

2Studio 60
I was so excited about this show; Aaron Sorkin, Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Schlamme all came together to produce a brilliant pilot. But then something went wrong and I’ve never quite worked out what happened. There were no spectacular failures, things just didn’t quite gel together; the romances felt creepy and annoying, the supposedly hilarious show-within-a-show just wasn’t funny, and the tone was often too preachy and smug. By half way through it was pretty clear that the show wasn’t likely to be picked up, and I was more disappointed about the wasted potential than I was about the actual cancellation when it finally came in.

3Dollhouse
Another cancellation that I met with faint sadness rather than anger. Once again despite a great collection of ingredients, the mixture just didn’t work. Maybe the network hadn’t realised they were buying a show with some pretty deep philosophical considerations and tried to re-engineer it, leaving a mishmash that satisfied no one; but maybe it was just a show that was never really going to work at all. Due credit to the network, they gave it a second year when no one, not even Joss Whedon himself had any hope, but the writing was on the wall by halfway through and with an acceleration of the plot we got to see how it would all play out. By the end I was satisfied that the series was finished, rounded out and enough.

4Pushing Daisies
The popularity of the first season of Pushing Daisies reaffirmed my faith in humanity. This was a bizarre idea: weird plots, quirky dialogue, random spontaneous singing and a peculiar visual style and yet it was a critical and public success. I adored it. But something happened during the second season and I just fell out of love with it. Others did the same and the ratings died. When it was cancelled I was a bit sad that there was no place for a show like this in the schedules, but I was unlikely to have watched the next season anyway.

Primeval
Primeval managed a pretty impressive deterioration, from the really enjoyable first season which dropped just enough hints of a complex time travelling background story to make it more than just disposable dinosaur fun. But by season three most of the original cast had left and when the major storyline was resolved I was left shouting “is that it?!” at the TV. The show was cancelled and I felt all was right in the world. As it turns out though, other countries love the show, so a whole mix of channels have invested money to save the show. Of all the show’s that deserve saving, this is probably the worst!

Amazon Links
A positive side effect of a show you like being cancelled is that the price of the dvds drops dramatically, most of these are available at massive discounts. Also I’m shamelessly trying out Amazon associates ;0)
Firefly – The Complete Series [2003]
The West Wing – Complete Season 1
Angel Season 1
Carnivale: Complete HBO Season 1 [2003]
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip – The Complete Series [DVD]
Pushing Daisies – Complete Season 1 [2007] (just 6 quid)
Primeval : Series 1 [2007] (just 3 quid)

Studio 60: Season 1

As news of this series started to drift out I became more and more excited about this show; the cast, the crew, the budget, it seemed to have everything. I even went so far as to say that I didn’t see how it could fail. A year later and the show is cancelled, so what on earth happened?

Many of the criticisms launched at the show are valid. The comedy show within the show just wasn’t funny enough, it aged badly between filming and airing and will age even more in re-runs. The second main issue I had was with the two main romances – Matt and Harriet were just annoying and Danny and Jordan felt rushed and a little silly. The other main criticism the press had with the show always felt irrelevant to me – they couldn’t seem to get over the fact that Aaron Sorkin was projecting his own issues and experiences onto his characters, but who cared? If people didn’t know that was the case, it made no difference to watching the show, so why keep harping on about it?

So the good – when this show was good, it was breathtakingly, rewind-the-dvd amazing. While they missed the boat with the two main romantic relationships, a couple of the friendships were brilliant. Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford were a perfect partnership, a brilliantly funny, touching double act. Bubbling in the background was another fine pairing in DL Hughley and Nathan Corddry (Simon and Tom). Two other superb characters managed to play well with just about anyone they got a line with – Timothy Busfield’s Cal and Steven Weber’s Jack Rudolf stole every scene they appeared in.

The plots are… hit and miss at best. Aaron Sorkin cannot write soap opera – that’s why the romances just don’t feel right, they lack the soul. Sorkin seems to need to believe in what he’s writing, he needs to put his soul in it, and it just wasn’t there for the romance. But when he’s good, he’s really good and he can make me cry and laugh at the same sentence.

But the show is over and no one seems surprised. None of the cast and crew seem to have done anything to fight for the show, to defend it against criticism or to react to it. I haven’t seen any press from any of them, and if anything the show seemed to say ‘sod em’ and go out of its way to ignore the suggestions for how to improve its appeal and chances of renewal. Part of me respects that, but mostly I’m just sad that such an amazingly talented group of people can’t make a show work.