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Middle Tennessee Film & Television
Couch Potatoes Without a Cause
Lost TV opportunities 
31st-Aug-2006 09:41 pm
I've just caught Keen Eddie on DVD from Netflix (thank you Netflix). This was a really good show and I am sorry I didn't catch it when Fox first aired it, and I'm sorry it lasted only one, abbreviated season.

Someone in the comments section on IMdb's Keen Eddie page bitched and moaned about how "tasteless" Fox was. That got me thinking. The Simpsons, The X-Files, Millennium, Arrested Development, Action!, Keen Eddie, 24, House, Prison Break, Malcom in the Middle, The Bernie Mac Show, Firefly, Wanda at Large, Futurama, Space: Above and Beyond, Werewolf, hell the list goes on and on. And that's not counting the quality programing on FX: Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, The Shield, etc. I know Fox may not let shows we like run long enough (I'm going to miss the hell out of Arrested Development) but is it because Fox, who had the balls to actually put some of these very risky shows on the air (Action! is still, by any standard, and envelope pusher of the South Park level and beyond since it was a broadcast net putting it up), is tasteless? Who's tasteless, really? Fox or the American public who fail to tune in and support quality television? Granted, Firefly barely got into orbit before it was shot down, and Action! (another I finally caught on DVD) was cancelled far too soon. Fox has let other shows play out too long and the creative teams squandered that opportunity by becoming stale (Malcom in the Middle and The X-Files are prime examples).

What is a network to do? The networks are funded by ad revenue which is generated by audience. Everyone knows this. The formula's pretty simple. Bigger audience means companies are willing to front more money to show their product to that larger audience which, in turn, means more money for production and profit. This is one reason why Fox has done so much with "reality" programing. I know I could do without the next So You Think You Can Be a Celebrity Mime Who Wants to Marry a Trailer-Park Redneck, but there's apparently a large group of viewers who are willing to watch such detritus. Do I need to remind anyone that millions - MILLIONS - (myself included) tune in to watch a mean-spirited Brit rip into a group of karaoke singers?

A network can effect the popularity of a show by promoting it, definitely. Was there enough promotional money behind the likes of Firefly? Definitely not. But Dark Angel had oodles of promotion and still failed. So what's the trigger? 24 got a bit of promotion before it premiered, but it was it's solid performance in the ratings (and very likely Keifer's involvement) that made the execs decide to put more promotion dollars behind it. Take The X-Files as another example. Hell, before season one, the words "The X-Files - The Truth is Out There. This fall on Fox" flashing for no more than a fifteen second ad was about all The X-Files got. I didn't even know it was going to be fictional. I thought it was going to be a paranormal version of Cops or another In Search Of-type show. Maybe the mystery is what got viewers to tune in. Who knows?

I don't think Fox is tateless or stupid. I hate the practice of cancelling shows without warning, before a story arc is realized, but that's the nature of network television. Fox isn't the only net to drop a great show too soon? Can anyone say Farscape? Carnivale? Dead Like Me? Nor is this a symptom of the "current state of television." Remember Star Trek only got three seasons, and had to struggle with low ratings throughout that run. These things aren't decided on artistic merit, but bottom line realities. I can't fault a network for cutting it's losses on a series that may be the best most intelligent thing ever to grace a coaxial cable, but fails to attract an audience for whatever reason.
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