Typing Faster

March 24, 2010

Catching Lightning In A Bottle…Twice: ABC’s Search for the Next Lost

Filed under: Flash Forward, Future of TV, Kvetch, Lost, NBC, Stuff I Like, the biz, V — petertypingfaster @ 3:42 pm

ABC underwent a resurrection in 2004. Prior to that the network had been languishing in third and fourth place for years, but all that changed in 2004. It was the year they launched Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, three shows that single-handedly (tri-handedly?) turned the network around.

Naturally ABC’s been trying to duplicate it ever since. From Variety.

Hit shows can be a curse as well as a blessing. As evidence, consider ABC’s frustration seeking to capitalize upon the mysterious yet lonely primetime island known as Lost.

[With] Lost‘s final flash-outta-here looming on the horizon, ABC faces a closing window to establish a successor before the passengers of Oceanic 815 fly into the sunset. The network’s last chance, essentially, boils down to V, which exhibited fleeting promise during a brief November tryout and returns March 30. Although the sci-fi revival opened strongly, the series has already been plagued by behind-the-scenes changes and criticism that subsequent episodes fell short of the pilot.

If V should wind up standing for “vanished” instead of “victory,” ABC will have squandered the Lost years without percolating a series to take up the show’s mantle, and not for lack of trying. FlashForward – which began its spring run last week with underwhelming ratings – is merely the latest also-ran Lost wannabe, following such heavily touted yet short-lived candidates as Invasion, The Nine, Day Break and Life on Mars.

Indeed, Lost itself has been something of an island. Even operating at diminished audience levels from its heyday, the show has consistently risen well above the valleys leading into and out of it while hop-scotching around ABC’s schedule.

Currently, new episodes follow a Lost rerun, before roughly half the audience quickly bails on newbie procedural The Forgotten. In that context, Lost‘s loyal legion of roughly 12 million viewers (including a sizable boost from DVR viewing) is more impressive – and post-Lost tune-out explains why the show’s enigmatic numerical sequence hasn’t been ABC’s only mathematical conundrum.

Finding another show to follow a monster hit like Lost is never easy. More often than not new shows will be compared disparagingly to their predecessors. Executives will often fall into the trap of looking for clones of other hit series, slaves to their past success. These aren’t problems limited to ABC either, but ones that afflict all the broadcasters.

But it’s a problem that broadcasters can’t ignore. Failure to replace aging hits can be catastrophic, one need look no further than NBC to see that.

…NBC…exhausted the better part of a decade trying to replicate Friends, only to watch the cast amass enough eight-figure paydays to grow blase about them, leaving the network high and dry and “Must-See TV” a memory when they finally scattered.

More recently, the favored approach to maximizing a hit’s mileage has been to simply expand the franchise, from the Law & Order and CSI triads to the half-dozen versions of Real Housewives flaunting their wealth across Bravo.

Of course cloning something like Lost is no easy task.

A construct as intricate as Lost, by contrast, defies such facile solutions, which isn’t to say ABC won’t be tempted. Hell, some of this season’s “flash-sideways” storylines seem tantalizingly tailor-made for spinoffs, from Michael Emerson as Ben Linus (call it “Creepy Teacher”) to Josh Holloway and Ken Leung in the buddy copshow “Sawyer’s Law” (one’s a smartass psychic; the other’s a ladies man hunting the grifter responsible for his mother’s death).

To its credit, ABC has delivered other power players (see “Stars, Dancing With the,” which just returned to huge numbers), so the cupboard isn’t bare. Nor were the aforementioned ratings failures necessarily creative flops – heck, I even enjoyed the outer-space serial Defying Gravity, abruptly pulled from orbit in the midst of its summer run.

Yet catching lightning in a bottle – as ABC did in the 2004-05 season with Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy – is difficult under ideal circumstances, especially because TV’s target keeps moving, like one of those impossible carnival games.

Simply put, in nearly every endeavor success tends to be instrumental in breeding success. And as one of ABC’s most distinctive successes prepares to disappear into that big black “O,” the network might truly regret discovering that while John Donne famously wrote no man is an island, a TV series can be.

Of course the question that no one’s asking is if it’s even possible to launch a huge hit like Lost anymore. In this age of splintering demographics and decrepit business models should we be re-evaluating what it means to be a hit?

The obvious answer, at least in my eyes, is absolutely. We need to start changing our perceptions of what constitutes a hit. When the CBC openly declared that anything less than 1M viewers for their scripted shows was a failure they set themselves up for failure. It’s unrealistic for us to expect shows to perform to that level in a splintered marketplace.

It’s time we all started taking a more niche, cable approach, where quality and key demographics trump absolute numbers. Thankfully I think that’s the direction we’re moving in.

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1 Comment »

  1. Defying Gravity Defies the Odds & ABC! Despite ABC’s failure to air the last five episodes, Defying Gravity made a clean sweep, earning nominations in every category for the Constellation Awards; no other show or film pulled this off. The nominations were solely based on fans votes.

    Best Male Performance in a 2009 Science Fiction Television Episode
    • Ron Livingston, for “Defying Gravity”, episode “Kiss”
    Best Female Performance in a 2009 Science Fiction Television Episode
    • Laura Harris, for “Defying Gravity”, episode “Kiss”
    Best Science Fiction Television Series of 2009
    • “Defying Gravity”
    Best Technical Accomplishment in a 2009 Science Fiction Film or Television Production
    • Stargate Studios, for visual effects in “Defying Gravity”
    Best Overall 2009 Science Fiction Film or Television Script
    • “Defying Gravity – Kiss”, written by James Parriott
    Outstanding Canadian Contribution to Science Fiction Film or Television in 2009
    • “Defying Gravity” – Series produced in Canada

    http://constellations.tcon.ca/

    Comment by Morgen — April 7, 2010 @ 10:00 am


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