The official, final cancellation of My Name Is Earl came through today. It wasn’t a big surprise. After the Fox network (presumably) passed on the idea of picking it up from NBC, TBS (which has the rerun rights) considered producing new episodes. But they announced today that it’s just not economically feasible. That’s the curse of the elaborate one-camera format with lots of flashbacks and fantasy sequences: it can’t be done on a low budget. (The reason How I Met Your Mother was able to survive its Season 3 ratings struggles was that it’s a multi-camera, studio-bound show, which makes it cheap to light and shoot despite the many scenes and flashbacks. But Earl requires not only a ton of scenes, but lots of locations, many takes for each scene, and different lighting setups for different angles.)
But the thing about Earl that others have pointed out is that in 2005, when it began, almost no one would have predicted that it would be out-lasted by shows like The Office and How I Met Your Mother. I certainly didn’t; by using Google you can find written proof that I thought of it as the big hit of the fall season, talked about why it was a huge hit whereas Arrested Development wasn’t (it out-ran AD, but not by much, and it probably won’t have a movie version). It started big, it had good ratings and reviews, it seemed to represent not only the first big sitcom hit of that season, but the future of how sitcoms would be done: one-camera, broad and surreal but with an overlay of sweetness and moral values (to distinguish it from the unlovable Arrested Development). Instead it wound up with a shorter run than creator Greg Garcia’s other show, “Yes, Dear.”
It’s just hard to know how a show is going to go. It’s almost impossible to tell based on the pilot, but it’s hard to know even based on the first season. Even the first two seasons. (Earl‘s second season was arguably an improvement on the first.) It’s fun to make predictions, and we’ll all continue to do so, but in some ways it’s even more fun to go back and compare your initial predictions to the way things actually turned out.
Speaking of predictions, Mark Evanier predicted (after his first round of predictions, but before it happened) that there would be “a flurry of articles that say NBC erred by bumping Jay for Conan and that Conan is not performing as well.” The news cycle works so fast now that this prediction came true within a week, and the “flurry” ended (for now) within a day. So when the numbers came out showing that Letterman beat Conan for the first time, you had Nikki Finke declaring that NBC made a terrible mistake, and when new numbers came out showing that Conan was doing great in adults 18-49, you had Finke sorta kinda admitting that her declaration of doom might have been a little premature. And who knows what the future will bring? Not me. Not Nikki Finke. Certainly not NBC.