I already mentioned that the second season of Being Erica demonstrates how early shows start rebooting these days: the second season essentially retools the premise and asks us to see it as a separate unit from the first season. Shows used to do that out of obvious desperation, but nowadays, it’s no longer a sign of desperation or network meddling, or at least it isn’t seen that way. In some ways, the second season of Erica has the signs of a retool, with more of a Lost-style focus on ongoing mysteries and connections, a more aggressive focus on the fantasy setup behind these trips into the past (remember, when the show started, the CBC seemed to be soft-peddling the fact that it was a fantasy ), and shake-ups in the lives and relationships of the characters. All this has the demographic logic of a retool, trying to expand the show’s audience, maybe bring in more male viewers, fantasy/serialization geeks, and so on. But one of the big advantages of the modern season-long serial format, which allows for huge changes from one season to the next, is that it allows a show to reboot without showing a clear lack of confidence in itself.
In the past, when a show revised its premise, we would know for certain that this was a sign that someone didn’t think it was working. Now, we don’t know that for certain. It might be lack of confidence, it might not be; hits retool almost as often as bubble shows, and there are artistic arguments for rebooting, not just economic/ratings arguments. That’s a big help for shows that are still trying to find themselves: they can do an overhaul, maybe get new viewers, without driving away the viewers they already had — because regular viewers are driven away by the perception of unnecessary retools or network meddling, and now we can’t always sense when that’s happened.
This does not, of course, apply to shows like Heroes, which do everything and anything out of an obvious sense of desperation.