We Want To Like TV, but TV Isn't Giving Us the Chance
by Jason B. Bell

TV shows get cancelled all the time. Sometimes good shows get cancelled while awful ones stay on the air. It’s a fact of life. However, there does seem to be a growing trend where TV shows are not only being cancelled because of lack of viewers and/or sufficient ratings to justify the cost of a show, but from what seems like direct sabotage of a show by the network airing it. Is this sabotage deliberate? I’m sure it’s more likely the result of the stupidity of people who don’t understand or appreciate the shows their networks are airing or their audiences. They’d probably be hard pressed to screw things up much worse if they really tried, though.

There was a television show by the name of Firefly that premiered on the Fox network in the fall of 2002. It was a rather high-concept show, and had a large cast of characters with complex backstories. The creators of the show took care to carefully introduce the concept and setting of the show and establish the characters in the pilot episode of the series, so that viewers could be eased into everything and understand what was going on. The network then made the mind-boggling decision to not air the pilot episode of Firefly until after the ten other episodes that aired. Judging by internet discussions from the time, many viewers naturally did not understand what was going on in the show, and were asking many questions and voicing many complaints they wouldn't have had if they had been able to see the show in its proper order. It also didn't help that the series was shown at a poor time for a dramatic action/adventure series (9:00 pm Eastern on Friday nights--when a large portion of the target audience is likely to be going out and doing things other than watching television). The series was not-too-surprisingly cancelled by mid-season.

Firefly was released on DVD in December of 2003, and has sold pretty well from what I understand. (As of the writing of this article, it's currently the 54th best-selling DVD on Amazon.com, and according to statistics from FireflyFans.net, has rather consistently placed in Amazon's top 50 or so DVDs throughout the past five months that it has been available to order.) The DVD allows viewers the luxury of actually being able to watch the episodes in their proper order. You also get to see them in their intended widescreen viewing aspect ratio--the Fox broadcasts had the sides cropped to fit 4:3 TV screens. Browsing various online newsgroups and discussion boards, I've seen testimonials of many a new Firefly fan who had never seen the series on TV or who had seen the out-of-order episodes and initially dismissed it as being confusing or didn't like it, only to be won over by seeing it as intended on the DVDs. There are those who never liked the show and still don't, but hey, not everything appeals to everyone's tastes. It's at least well-liked and successful enough that a Firefly movie is reportedly being scripted and appears to be rather likely to happen. It seems the network really dropped the ball on this show and screwed both themselves and their viewers out of a good show--not that that's anything new in the television business, unfortunately. It's happened before (especially on Fox, with shows like Family Guy for instance), and it will certainly happen again.

So what's the next likely victim of such TV network boneheaded scheduling? I'm betting on Fox's new Wonderfalls, scheduled to begin airing March 12, 2004 at 9:00 pm Eastern.

The following is a brief description of the series from the show's official website:

Set against the backdrop of Niagara Falls, WONDERFALLS is a distinctive one-hour family dramedy about underachieving 20-something souvenir shop worker JAYE TYLER (Caroline Dhavernas). Her life is forever changed when inanimate figures -- including toys, cartoons, and anything in the form of an animal -- begin to talk to her. In each episode, Jaye receives cryptic messages from her little "friends" which lead her into the lives of others in need.

Based on the above description I probably wouldn't ordinarily take much notice of this show. All of those "person gets magical/divine advice telling them to do good deeds for various strangers" shows usually don't do much for me. But... Tim Minear, who was a writer, producer, and director on two of my favorite TV shows--Angel and the aforementioned Firefly--is one of the people behind Wonderfalls. And I've been reading good things about it from people who enjoyed those other shows. The IMDB lists one of the working titles of the series as "Touched by a Crazy Person," so it seems to me that the show might not take itself as seriously or get as sappy as what I might expect from similar shows. I could very well be wrong, but it sounds like something I might want to check out.

Then again, with TV going the way it seems to be these days, if I actually do like it, will it even be worth the trouble to try to watch it? Here we have another high-concept show airing at 9 pm Friday nights on Fox, same as Firefly. Oh yeah, it turns out that Fox will be airing Wonderfalls ridiculously out of order too [see note at end of article], just like with Firefly. Wonderfalls will at least get to air its introductory episode first (at least I'm assuming it's the proper first episode, since I haven't read anything to the contrary). However, internet sites following the show's development (such as the Spoiler Slayer) are reporting that the very next week the network will be airing an episode that was filmed as the twelfth episode of the thirteen-episode season. Now maybe there won't be too many continuity or character development issues to confuse those of us seeing these episodes in such an oddly-ordered sequence, but at this point I'm very pessimistic.

I figure I'll at least watch the first episode to see if it's something I might like. But should I even bother to continue watching afterwards, even if I like the show? I don't like watching shows out of order and missing out on critical plot or character developments. I don't have a ratings box and don't know anyone who does, so my own viewing or lack thereof wouldn't have any real effect on the success or failure of the show. Going from past experience and a gut feeling, I'm guessing it'll probably only be on the air for a couple of months before it's cancelled and replaced by the latest run of Who Wants to Get a Makeover and Marry a Fat Obnoxious Average Joe Millionaire Midget. Then, if it’s lucky, it'll get released on DVD, where people will actually take notice of it. Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic here, but is there any hope left for television? It seems more and more these days that for those of us who want to see quality programming, the networks' only use is to allow us to sample what shows we want to get on DVD--which is where we end up getting our actual entertainment from. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for from now on.

*****

NOTE: I am relieved to report that previously-reported concerns about Fox airing Wonderfalls out of order appear to have been premature.  Series executive producer Tim Minear has made a post to the Buffistas message board explaining that while the "out of order" episode mentioned in this article was indeed written and filmed late in the production of the season, it was in fact intended to be placed as the second episode.  Similarly, another episode that was written and filmed late in the production will also be airing earlier in the season, but this is according to the creators' plans as well.  Minear even mentions that there was an episode the network wanted to change the airing order of, but he managed to talk them out of doing so.  So many thanks to Mr. Minear for clearing this confusion up, easing people's worries about the show and the way Fox is running things, and giving us a more positive note to end this article on.

Copyright 21 Feb 2004 We Like Media.
You may email Jason B. Bell.