Wednesday, May 27, 2009

R.I.P. Reaper

If Republicans want to return to power, they need to drop their obsessive-compulsive fixation with abortion and same sex marriage. Rather, they need to apply themselves to correcting one of the greatest crimes being perpetrated upon the helpless masses of this once great nation by corporate America: TV show finales.

There is nothing more frustrating than following a serialized TV show and then having it get canceled without any real sense of conclusion. Yes, I understand the ratings were lousy. But even if a show has lousy Nielsen numbers, there are still several million viewers out there watching the stupid thing. And quite frankly, many of us--er, them--don't have lives of our--um, their--own. We--I mean they--rely on television to give meaning to our--um, their--meaningless, pathetic existences.

The most recent example of this is Reaper. It was an amusing series on the CW network about Sam Oliver, a 20 something year old slacker still living at home. On his 21st birthday the devil shows up to claim Sam's soul because his parents had sold it years before. But rather than immediately whisk him off to hell, the devil put him to work recapturing escaped souls and returning them to hell. Each capture involves some sort of "vessel" with which to capture the soul. The vessel is always something otherwise innocuous, like a portable vacuum cleaner, a remote controlled toy race car, or a baseball. Sam enlists a couple of his slacker buddies to help him in his task, and wild wackiness ensues.

One of the subplots underlying the series, however, was Sam's constant quest to get out of the contract with the devil. In what was supposed to be the second season finale, Sam thinks he finally has a way out. He foolishly makes a surefire bet with the devil. Not only does Sam lose the bet, but his girlfriend ends up losing her soul as well.

Unfortunately, because of lousy ratings, that ended up being the series finale as well. Consequently three million viewers have been left out in the cold. Personally, I'm so upset, I'd be willing to sell my soul just to find out what finally happens to Sam and his friends.

A few years ago, CBS pulled this same stunt with a show called Jericho. That was a series about how one Kansas town copes after a series of nuclear explosions cripple America. And while the acting was somewhat stiff, it was still a fascinating concept for a TV show. The first season ended up with a climactic showdown between Jericho and the neighboring town. But again, because of lousy ratings, CBS killed the show and left viewers hanging in midair. Fortunately, after a massive outcry from the fans, CBS brought the show back the following year for six episodes so it could reach some sort of logical conclusion.

Other shows that have left viewers out in the cold in recent years were The Nine and Invasion. Both shows aired on ABC.

I'm genuinely sorry those shows were duds for their networks. But if they make a commitment to air some sort of serialized storyline, they need to follow through on that commitment. Otherwise, after getting burned a few times, TV viewers will become increasingly reluctant to invest their time in watching a show that's eventually going to leave them high and dry.

Can you imagine what would have happened back in 1980 if CBS had canceled Dallas right after J.R. got shot? There would have been rioting in the streets, the government would have been overthrown, and the ensuing civil unrest would have reduced America to a smoldering post-apocalyptic wasteland.... Kind of like in Jericho.

Oh, the irony.

This is also why I've held off on watching Harper's Island. It's a 13 part murder mystery series on CBS. Each week one character gets knocked off, and supposedly everything will be explained by the last episode. The show sounds like a fascinating concept, and I have all the episodes saved on my Tivo. But I refuse to start watching it until part 13 actually airs. And my reluctance is justified: The show started off on Thursday nights but because of lousy ratings has been moved to Saturdays. And I'll be damned if I'm going get burned again by a.... Premature cancellation.

I hate it when that happens.

One network that should be singled out for kudos on this topic is ABC. Perhaps they learned their lesson after The Nine and Invasion. They recently canceled Life on Mars (the Americanized version) after only one season. But the network suits at least gave the show's producers advance notice and asked them to write an actual finale to the show. As a result, viewers were treated to what was one of the better finales on American TV.

SPOILER ALERT (but the show is canceled, so who really cares): Sam Tyler wakes up from suspended animation on the first manned mission to Mars in 2035. It turns out that his whole "return to 1973 as a cop" thing was all just a crazy dream. His fellow cops were actually Sam's crew mates on the ship.

The best line came during the conversation with mission control: The head controller says that President Obama had wanted to be on hand to congratulate the crew, but "she and her sister had to return to Chicago because their father had taken a turn for the worse."

If networks are truly concerned about why increasingly fewer people are watching their shows, perhaps they should start taking better care of the viewers they still have.

2 thoughtful ramblings:

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