Readers to NBC: Quit Killing Our Shows
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After writing a piece in defense of “Prime Suspect,” which NBC recently pulled from its lineup, the “save my show” emails came fast and furious. Not just about the show, which many people say was their favorite of season, but also about NBC’s weird self-defeating penchant for putting together sophisticated shows and then pulling the plug when their numbers don’t immediately measure up to their more mass-market brethren. Which no one in their right minds could have expected them to.
“I just seem to fall in love with shows that have short lives. And they usually seem to be on NBC, so I keep telling myself; ‘Don’t look! Don’t watch!’, but I get drawn in,” said one. “When I read that it was being put on the back burner I thought ‘Here we go again with NBC,’” said another, citing the demise of “Law and Order LA.” “Here they have another good show that we’ve become invested in and they’re not giving it a chance to find an audience.”
Many readers asked what they could do to save “Prime Suspect,” and, more poignantly, if the critics could do anything. After exploring every avenue save hostage taking to save NBC’s “Life” a few years back (its star, Damian Lewis, is currently giving a master class in acting on Showtime’s fabulous “Homeland”), I can’t say I hold out any hope that the NBC execs read my piece, smote their collective foreheads and ordered up the rest of the season.
The best way to save a show, of course, is to get all your friends to watch it, and blog, tweet, Facebook about their adoration and outrage at the prospect of it being killed. That worked for “Chuck,” another NBC show that faced the chopping block in its second season and was saved by a viral fan campaign that then caught the attention of the mainstream media.
Unfortunately, the audience for shows like “Prime Suspect,” or “Law and Order LA” or my beloved “Life” are not filled to the brim with the Twitter-addicted demographic. As I noted in my piece, the network, for better or worse, intentionally courted fans of the original “Prime Suspect,” which aired a decade ago on PBS; you do the social media math. Even without the Brit TV issue, fans of hour-long police dramas in the 10 p.m. slot are usually not looking to start a pop cultural movement; they just want to watch something decent after the kids are in bed and the dishes are done. Is that too much to ask? And if my email is any indication, they don’t much appreciate the new sped-up timeline of “a hit by six episodes or it’s curtains.” Who needs that kind of pressure, especially right before the holidays?
TV is a business and a network needs to be profitable to make the sorts of shows that we all love. But surely in that business plan there is room for the shows that no one expects to come out of the box with a huge audience share, that networks keep afloat for at least a full season to see if the numbers will grow or to ensure the happiness and fidelity of viewers who would rather eat broken glass than watch another singing competition. Yanking good shows in their infancy isn’t just bad for those shows and their fans, it’s bad for all future shows in the same time slot. As many of those who wrote me are coming to believe “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…” and I’ll just wait to see if it survives a season and then watch it on Netflix.
-- Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic