Thursday, September 06, 2018

COLUMN: Cancellations


Well, it's official. Good weather is upon us.

How do I know this? Is it because the flood waters have receded? Because the forecasters have retired the phrase "wintry mix" for at least a few months? Because the sun's out, people are milling around outdoors, and there's a certain magic in the air?

Nope. I know the weather's getting nice because every TV show that any of us care about has just been unceremoniously snuffed out of existence for the season, some never to return again.

I remember a day when I used to anxiously await network TV's annual spring upfronts, where they introduce and tease some of the new shows coming this fall. But this year especially, I found myself caring a lot less about new shows and a lot more about which current shows were facing the grim axe of cancellation.

Six months ago, I wrote a column celebrating the current slate of TV programming and told you that we were living in a new golden age of broadcasting. Half a year later, all those shows are cancelled and everything sucks again. Whoops, my bad.

Once upon a time, TV shows were given a fighting chance of survival. Even "My Mother The Car," an actual series about a guy's dead mother reincarnated as a 1928 Porter jalopy, a show widely considered to be the worst show in the history of television, aired 30 episodes before the network pulled the plug. (An actual episode synopsis: "Dave is forced to drive his mother/car to a mountaintop wedding, but along the way she gets drunk on antifreeze.")

These days, a struggling show is lucky to get six episodes before the axe falls. Imagine what television history would be like if networks always had this itchy of a trigger finger. When it started out, "Cheers" ranked 74th out of 77 shows on the air. "Seinfeld" was panned by test audiences. Neither show would have survived past its first season in today's market. With a kajillion different cable channels and limitless streaming options, networks no longer have the patience to nurse a show to success -- it's either a hit or a miss out the gate.

And when you're only concerned with hits, what happens? You water creativity down, pander to middle America, and you're left with a schedule of singing contests, banal family sitcoms, and my absolute least favorite genre of TV: medical dramas. I swear, every one of them has the same plot:

Patient: "I have a head cold."

Doctor: "Well, let me just take a look... OMIGOD, YOU HAVE TERMINAL NOSE CANCER AND 45 MINUTES LEFT TO LIVE! #drama"

Patient: "Let me quickly make amends with my family and say something incredibly poignant about mortality. #Emmynominee"

Actor Playing Doctor: "I am now SO popular for playing this doctor that I am quitting the show to make movies with Brad Pitt. #Emmywinner"

Doctor: "OH NO, NOW I HAVE TERMINAL NOSE CANCER, TOO!"

This season's biggest success story was the return of fan favorites like "Will & Grace" and "Roseanne." As a result, next fall's schedule is filled to the brim with multi-camera sitcoms and retreads of past glories. "Murphy Brown" is coming back, and so are new versions of "Magnum P.I." and "Cagney and Lacey." WHY? Let ghosts lie, I say.

Why not just make a NEW show about two mismatched female detectives and name it something OTHER than "Cagney and Lacey?" If you made a new show about a small-town sheriff with a heart of gold, you wouldn't call it "The Andy Griffith Show." And how much staying power does the name "Cagney and Lacey" even HAVE, anyways? No offense, but hasn't the primary fanbase of the original series shuffled off to the great studio audience in the sky?

And to make room for this tidal wave of retreads, some truly great shows got the axe this year. "Designated Survivor" and "Last Man on Earth," both quality shows, end their legacies on cliffhangers that will never get resolved (although there are now rumours that Netflix may step in and save "Designated Survivor.")

My favorite new show of the year, "Kevin (Probably) Saves the World" now ends without fanfare, resolution, or any indication as to whether or not Kevin actually saves the world (Spoiler: He probably does.) The Grim Reaper of cancellation even reached my favorite show to hate-watch, the musical-drama "Rise." Now we'll never know whether or not a high school full of every cliche teenage stereotype can be saved by one dauntless drama teacher and his plucky production of "Spring Awakening."

The point is: Shows should never end on a cliffhanger. If a network prematurely boots a show, they should be required to air a final episode wherein the show's creators and writers just stand in front of a camera and tell us what WOULD have happened had the series continued. Every show deserves a "The End."

If I ran the world, the television dial would look a whole lot different. And Katie Holmes would probably be starring in everything. But if this assassination of quality TV keeps up, I might just have to check out this "outdoors" thing I keep hearing about.

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