Friday, November 21, 2008

The Facts Were These...

Denial is a truly terrible thing for the TV analyst to suffer from. Particularly when it comes to the vexed subject of the viewing habits of "the general public." Cos, they're a rather curious bunch of people - you might have noticed this yourselves. And they do the daftest things. So ... If we'd been honest with ourselves, we all probably knew this decision was likely to come for some time now - possibly since the opening night of the season. But the announcement, seemingly official, made this morning that ABC have cancelled Pushing Daisies is a cruel body-blow to anyone who appreciates a bit of imaginative, clever, witty, brave, experimental and - most importantly - GOOD television.

It all began so promisingly in the autum of 2007. The first nine episodes were quite the most brilliant thing many of us jaded hacks had seen in, literally, years. Reviewers were - literally - falling over themselves to pluck superlatives from their database to tell the world just how good this show was. How clever, how strange, how extraordinarily different. I, personally, hadn't been as evangelical about a new US show since ... well, The West Wing, probably. Maybe even Buffy. It was THAT good. "A little piece of Tim Burton-like fairytale transplanted into your TV." And, even better, it started with decent - if hardly spectacular - ratings. But, and i think it's fair to say many of us feared this at the time, the show's progress was fatally hampered by the US writer's strike which curtailed its first season. And in the nine months between then and the start of the second batch of episodes being broadcast, many of the show's viewers, seemingly, forgot what it was that they liked about it in the first place.

Funnily enough, if Pushing Daisies had failed to get an audience from day one then I wouldn't have been all that surprised. I said when it started that it might be just that bit too odd for many viewers. But, the fact that it seemed to, initially, find an audience and then subsequently lose it is, perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of all.

And, let's be clear about this, the failure of Pushing Daisies to survive in the harsh television landscape of 2008 should make everyone else as sad and disappointed as it does me. In a world where lowest-common denominator nonsense like CSI: Miami and the numerous reality shows that NBC (once the home of The West Wing, remember) now peddles as their idea of prime-time entertainment can find an (in the case of the former, vast) audience but Pushing Daisies cannot should be a cause of bitter despair for anyone who genuinely cares about the future of TV.

We've already lost Aaron Sorkin to the medium and we're not likely to get him back any time soon after the way Studio 60 was treated by NBC. Joss Whedon's next project - Dollhouse - debuts early in 2009. But any cautious optimism raised by the return to our TV screens of the man who created two of the most memorable and important shows of the last twenty years is instantly tempered by the graveyard Friday night slot that the show has been given by Fox which makes me suspect it will be lucky if it lasts as long as the four episodes that Whedon's former Angel oppo Tim Minear's Drive did last year. If Dollhouse fails then, after the perceived failure of Firefly, which network is likely to put its hand in its pocket for Joss again given the apparent "two strikes and you're out" world of US TV commissioning? Where are the new Lost's? Where's the next Heroes going to coming from? The US version of Life on Mars looks very promising but, again, it's struggling to find an audience (albeit, not quite as dramatically as Pushing Daisies). Even on cable where, once, shows were nutured and given time to develop we've seen The Riches bite the dust this year and both The Shield and Battlestar Galactica are soon to follow it to the great gig in the sky.

But ultimately, the failure of Pushing Daisies to maintain an audience is not so much a reflection on the show itself or, indeed, on the network which commissioned it in the first place but, rather, on the viewers who at first embraced it and then, casually, rejected it. Because it was too different, too left-field. Too much like hard work, frankly. The part of this sorry saga that actually makes me saddest of all is the list of Wednesday night shows on US network TV that viewers rejected Pushing Daisies in favour of. Bones - okay, I can handle that one, it's fun vehicle and a decent enough drama. Criminal Minds? Another inferior CSI-clone without the wit or imagination of most of the others. The New Adventures of Old Christine? A banal formula sitcom. The remake of Knight Rider? Come on. At the end of the day, what finally killed Pushing Daisies wasn't merely the momentum it lost after the writer's strike which curtailed its first season but, rather, the fact that to many viewers seemed to prefer an easier option. What a tragic waste.


Nightsky said...

I'm utterly heartbroken.

Since you're not in the US, though, I think you're missing a key piece of information: the total lack of promotion for PD. ABC aggressively promoted its first season, but they seem to have lost interest during the strike. The "re-launch" was tepid, and there have been virtually no ads. This isn't hyperbole--you could watch the ABC ads for upcoming shows and see nary a one for PD. Pre-empting it for two weeks (as they just did) and THEN making the show's survival contingent on its performance the first night after the hiatus (for which, naturally, there were no ads) is just kicking the show while it's down.

Koshka42 said...

If ABC had thought of possibly, I dunno, ADVERTISING the show this year, the ratings might have been better...

ABC: the new FOX.

Keith Topping said...

There is, undeniably, some truth in what both of you say. But, ultimately, if enough of an audience can't be bothered - collectively - to pick up a copy of TV Guide now and then and, just every once in a while decide to be a smidgen adventurous then, tragiclly,they don't deserve anything better than CSI: Miami. You can't spoon-fed the public all their lives, it's not economically viable!