The Strange Magic of a TV Flop - Macleans.ca
 

The Strange Magic of a TV Flop


 

Lone Star. I mentioned it in a couple of previous posts, how the premiere was an epic disaster despite great reviews. The creator, Kyle Killen, led an internet campaign to save the show, encouraging as many people as possible to tune in for the second episode (which almost didn’t air because the ratings for the pilot were so bad). And now we know that the ratings for the second episode went down a bit, as second episodes often do, and that a number of people who stuck around to watch it were tuning out in the second half-hour. The main question at this point, unfortunately, is when Fox will shut down production and whether we’ll get to see the episodes that have been produced.

Update: And it’s gone. Canceled after two episodes. Fox can’t actually be blamed for this decision, since they had no choice. The key question about any show’s survival is whether it’s doing better than what the network could replace it with. (This is what keeps many low-rated NBC shows on the air, that they do just enough numbers that the network is in doubt about whether it could find something that would do better.) Almost anything would do better in that time slot than Lone Star has, sadly but true.

Some have wondered whether there was any point in fans getting involved in a save-our-show campaign for a show that was essentially doomed. I think this misses the point, though: save-our-show campaigns are only partly about saving a show. Yes, people do it because they like a show, or in this case because they liked the pilot and thought it would make a good show. But it doesn’t really matter if the campaign has a chance of working or not, and it really shouldn’t matter, because it’s not like an election — you don’t pick a show to support based on practical considerations. These campaigns are fun for the people involved: in this case, they got to interact with other fans, interact with the creator, and most of all feel like they were interacting with the show itself: demonstrating support for a TV show is one of the few non-passive things we can do. And it’s also a way of expressing your idea of what TV ought to be, or what you’d like to see the networks do. The Lone Star campaign was about fans saying that this is the sort of show that networks should be doing, the cable-style, morally-ambiguous drama. From a business standpoint, Fox has no choice but to take it off, and most campaigners knew that on some level — but so what? It’s Fox’s job to make business decisions; it’s not the fans’. The fans just want to stick up for what they find entertaining, and that’s what save-our-show lobbying is all about.

As to why it’s such a flop: I don’t know. I was talking about this last night, and I realized that while there are all sorts of reasons you can come up with for why a show flops, it’s hard to find a definitive one — especially when, as with this show, everybody seems to have collectively changed the channel after House. All the reasons are probably true to some extent. It was hard to promote, so no one really knew what it was; it was about a man who is cheating on two women, and only Archie comics readers like to hang out with guys like that; the competition was tough. The explanation I would add is that James Wolk may not have what it takes to carry a series. He’s basically a Krasinski — handsome but not impossibly so, affable, nice hair. The comparison I draw is if the part of J.R. Ewing were played by Bobby; pretty guys with good hair can be likable and fun to watch, but they’re frequently not very compelling. And anti-heroes absolutely must be compelling or they will drive people away — you can have a cute, affable Romeo but a cute, affable Othello or Macbeth is something else again. Anti-heroes don’t have to be old, but it helps if they’re so charismatic that you can’t take your eyes off them no matter what they do; I never got the impression that James Wolk is someone people absolutely had to see. Perhaps they needed to cast the part older and pick a more familiar actor for this make-or-break role.

But then, perhaps that wouldn’t have worked. And none of these explanations, even taken together, can fully explain why this show flopped so badly. That’s why a flop, in its own strange way, has a certain magic to match a hit. No one fully knows what makes a hit — if they did, they’d be making hits instead of this season’s crop of disappointments. But no one knows exactly what makes a bomb, either. We can explain why Lone Star was not popular; we can explain why it isn’t going to get picked up for more episodes; we can’t really explain why audiences just didn’t want to see this show. That’s kind of interesting in its own way.

Of course, just because we can’t explain why Lone Star bombed is no reason we can’t speculate about it, so if you have your own theories about what caused its failure, have at it. And, of course, let’s remember that the viewership of Lone Star would be a great week for all but a select few cable dramas; of the top 25 basic cable shows in the U.S. last week, the only drama in the mix was Sons of Anarchy, which got fewer viewers than Lone Star did. Still, obviously, cable is not broadcast and vice-versa, and the fact remains that  Sons of Anarchy is a hit and Lone Star isn’t.


 
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The Strange Magic of a TV Flop

  1. Lone Star was a flop because there was no character to root for. Everybody is terrrible. Why would I watch a show where I hate all the characters? When I watched it, I wanted the two-timing con artist to be killed off as soon as possible. And he is the lead character.

    • with just 4 million people watch the pilot I can hardly agree with this… no body switch to fox at all!

  2. "Great" isn't how I'd describe the reviews I saw, at least in that I don't think I read a single one that fully endorsed the show. They fully endorsed the *pilot* certainly, but nearly every one became focused on the long-term sustainability of the premise (and lack thereof). Critics were reluctant to give it a whole-hearted recommendation, and I wonder if they should've focused more on what was in the episode they saw and less on future hypotheticals.

    Which I don't think contributed to the show being such a flop, just something I've been pondering. And it's interesting to watch some of those same critics lamenting its demise over this last week.

  3. I'm guessing, from the following description, that Jimmy Smits' new show is going to take "flop" to a whole new low:

    "Starring Emmy Award winner Jimmy Smits (“NYPD Blue,” “The West Wing”), “Outlaw” is a new drama from creator and executive producer John Eisendrath (“Alias,” “Felicity”).

    Few jobs are guaranteed for a lifetime, and a Supreme Court appointment is a position that no one ever quits – unless he is Cyrus Garza (Smits). A playboy and a gambler, Justice Garza always adhered to a strict interpretation of the law until he realized the system he believed in was flawed. Now, he's quit the bench and returned to private practice.

    Using his inside knowledge of the justice system, Garza and his team will travel across the country taking on today's biggest and most controversial legal cases.

    Garza's team includes his best friend since childhood, Al Druzinsky (David Ramsey), a brilliant defense attorney with liberal beliefs; Mereta Stockman (Ellen Woglom), a hopeless romantic who is Garza's loyal law clerk; Lucinda Pearl (Carly Pope), a wildly unorthodox private investigator who uses her sex appeal and wit to gather information for Garza; and Eddie Franks (Jesse Bradford), a tightly wound, rabidly ambitious Yale-educated attorney, recently hired as Garza's law clerk."

    • Oh, the description hardly does justice to its hilarity. Still, while the show's ratings are deservedly low, it's just a show getting low ratings because it's bad — it's not a bomb, just a bad show that's failing.

      • Yeah, Outlaw is going to be terrible. Impossibly terrible. Between Outsourced, S**t My Dad Says and Outlaw, it's hard to decide which is the worst new show of the season.

        I haven't watched Outsourced, but figure it's terrible, and I made it 45 seconds into SMDS before it got the boot.

        • Maybe they could replace all those bombs with a new season of…

          Firefly!

          Come on, talk about a fan campaign. We'll never give up, never!

          • MOOOOOAAAAAARRRRR!

            Er, yes, I agree :)

  4. "…everybody seems to have collectively changed the channel after House"

    Is the lead-in show somewhat irrelevant these days as so many people PVR shows? I rarely watch a show live, so when I finished watching House last night, I didn't move onto watching LoneStar.

    Too bad about this show not doing well. It's one of only two, possibly three new shows from this season that I was going to add to my rotation.

  5. I watched Outsourced, and found it wasn't anywhere near as awful as it was made out to be. It wasn't brilliant, and it wasn't terrible. It was somewhere in the middle, still on my to watch list. S%^! My Dad Says wasn't awful either. Mind you, not bad isn't really the benchmark to hit, but not every show can come out running like Community did this year – the season 2 premiere was one of the funniest half hours I have seen in a long time.

    What was awful was Outlaw. The plot holes redefined gaping, and the premise did not just mock the suspension of disbelief, but actively humiliated it, backhanded it, took it outside, beat it on a rock, then did a dirty-shoe dance all over it.

    I could care less about Lone Star, but I will mourn Terriers when it gets the axe.

  6. "Lone Star" sounds like a western, which holds no interest for me.

  7. i also read about people being turned off by the lead character being a two-timer, which i thought was very interesting, because of where people draw their moral lines. people will watch and praise a show like DEXTER, about an anti-hero serial killer, or THE SHIELD, about a corrupt cop, but when it comes to bigamy, that somehow crosses the line?

    i didn't see much promotion for the show, but i also agree that it's a difficult one to promote. but as for James Wolk, i found him very likeable, and despite being an unfamiliar face, thought he has a great star quality to him…i even thought he had a bit of a young Clooney vibe going.

  8. Hmmmm…..I’m surprised Mr. Weinman failed to mention Lone Star’s ratings might have been low due to the competition in the Mon. 9pm EST slot– power-house Dancing With the Stars, Two and a Half Men( currently the #1 scripted show on tv). Both have very established viewership who don’t want to change their habits. Let’s not overestimate the American public– given the choice, they’re going to go with spandex and rhinestones and sophomoric jokes about gastric disturbances every time.

  9. A newsgroup poster theorized Lone Star failed — whereas The Event seems to be succeeding — because 24 fans weren't looking for a soap to watch, they were looking for another genre show. That doesn't hold water for me, mainly because 24 wouldn't have debuted until January anyway.

    And seeing Fox and the words "save our show" in the same post can't help but make me think of the winner of one of TV Guide's very first (possibly the first) annual "Save Our Shows" campaign: The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. The campaign, of course, didn't save it from cancellation, which is a shame, as that show really deserved a second season. Still, I guess Fox gets credit for sticking with it longer than it would today; even after it was canceled Fox aired repeats of the show right up until the start of the new season.

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