Fall TV: Which new show gets the ax first?
Gentlemen, start your engines! Fantastic. Now, you there — please shut your engine off, vacate the car, push it off the track, and turn in your keys. Don’t feel so bad. You’ve actually won this race — the race to be the first cancellation of the new TV season! Actually, on second thought, maybe you should feel bad.
Yes, it’s that time of year, when scores of programs debut on network schedules. After months of hard work, hype, and continually looped promos (thanks, CBS, for assaulting me with ”Everybody Wants to Rule the World” 3,274 times in your weepy Kid Nation spots, igniting both tears and fears on my end), the latest offerings are finally here. But for how long? Predicting the fall season’s first casualty has become an irresistible spectator sport — but it’s not so easy. There are several elements to consider. The first, of course, is whether the program features cavemen characters inspired by an already played-out advertising campaign. Such programs have a remarkably poor track record. This also speaks to the much broader issue of quality: Sometimes a show is simply so bad, you know it is not long for this world (ABC’s Big Shots, I’m now looking your way). However, well-pedigreed dramas often get the hook just as easily. Back in 1999, Fox’s Harsh Realm seemed to have everything going for it: It was an intriguing Matrix-like look at life in a virtual world, came from red-hot X-Files creator Chris Carter, and, perhaps most important, featured Terry O’Quinn rocking a pencil-thin mustache. No matter. It was dumped after three episodes.
Often it comes down to two other factors — time-slot competition and whether the network has something ready to put on in its place. The first one causes me to wonder if NBC’s Life could be dead on arrival. It’s a quirky take on a fruit-obsessed cop who was wrongly convicted and spent time in the pen. It’s also going up against CBS’ established CSI: NY and ABC’s camptastic attention-grabbing Dirty Sexy Money. And as for the second point…oh, wait, I feel a song coming on. And it goes a little something like this: ”Oh, Viva Laughlin, you thought you were smart/Delaying your debut with an Oct. 18 start/So your musical drama wouldn’t be the first to go/But with Melanie Griffith singing Blondie songs, I fear for your show.” Another reason Laughlin may be this fall’s first dead show walking — other than its featuring, you know, people breaking into song — is that CBS has a new season of The Amazing Race all wrapped and waiting in the wings. (I can already sense Phil Keoghan arching his eyebrow in anticipation.)
CBS certainly didn’t exhibit patience last year with its expensive heist drama Smith (pulled after three airings), but when it comes to itchy trigger fingers, no one compares to Fox. The network is notorious for pulling programs after ridiculously brief runs and replacing them with fare like Former Child Stars vs. Mentally Challenged Hyenas II: Who’s Laughing Now? Fox’s history leads us to the most ironic part about this entire column — the fact that the first ax of the season may very well have already fallen by the time you read this. Offering a huge extended middle finger to the first-cancellation-of-the-season gods, Fox debuted reality show Nashville two weeks early — on Sept. 14. Bold. Daring. Stupid. The show attracted fewer than 3 million viewers, making it the odds-on favorite to get a premature pink slip. Whichever show goes first, give all these nominees a big round of applause. It may be the last one they hear.
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