Television is a vast wasteland, according to Newton Minow.

The facts are these...

Posted: 21 November 2008 | posted by David J. Loehr |

It seems Pushing Daisies has finally, apparently, been cancelled. I say that because there's still no official word beyond the fact that ABC isn't ordering any more episodes beyond the initial 13 this season. No, the ratings have been underwhelming, to say the least. Yes, the show is expensive, even after trimming the budget after the pilot. From a business standpoint, the whole thing makes sense.

So why is ABC making a big mistake?

You could make the argument that it's a critically acclaimed show--which is is, for the most part--and that it's always good to keep those around. That's fine. Me, I've been down that road with ABC before, albeit a different regime. (It's a little scary to realize that article is already ten years old. Anyway. Moving on.)

No, there's one solid reason to keep Pushing Daisies alive and kicking on the air, and it has nothing to do with its ratings or its fans. Bryan Fuller, the creator of Daisies as well as Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, was on the staff of Heroes in its first season. He was responsible for episodes like "Company Man," widely considered the single best episode of the series. Since he left the staff, the show has gone downhill. (I'm being kind. The ratings have gone downhill. The writing has gone beyond.) And Fuller has stated that, if Daisies were indeed cancelled, he'd like to go back to Heroes and see if he could rescue it.

So let's see. Here, we have ABC with a well-liked, critically acclaimed show created and run by a man who, were he not under contract, would go back to NBC and their former monster hit series and try to restore it to its previous ratings (and coherent) glory, a man credited with being the best writer who ever worked on that show. Does this make sense to you?

Me, I'd keep the player off the board. If that means keeping Daisies on the air, so be it. Who really loses there? The fans win, because the show stays on. The network wins, because it gets some press for sticking by someone with actual creative vision. And the network also wins because their rival's series keeps struggling.

Of course, I would've brought the show back after the writers' strike, even if only in reruns. How many classic series survived to a second or third season only because the reruns ran all summer long and gave people a chance to catch up and fall in love? (Hello, Dick Van Dyke!) But no, they kept the show off the air for NINE MONTHS and relaunched it cold this fall. No lead-up, no real promotion, no real explanation.

Considering the nine-month absence, I think I might have gone with a more concentrated promotional push aimed at reintroducing the show instead of assuming that people knew about it and were simply waiting for it to return. Great, people in a few major cities got free pies. That accomplished what, exactly?

And then, after the bounce in ratings from being the only alternative to the Obama-mercial, I probably wouldn't have taken the show off for the following two weeks. Call me crazy, I'm thinking people came back the following week, found a reality show and ran away again.

Granted, as R. A. Porter reminded me, this is TV, not sports, "There's no Billy Beane." Very true, and maybe that's a shame. The networks try counter-programming, but here's a chance to do more than that. Oh well.

Maybe, if they had really been smart, they might have held off on bringing the show back until midseason. What's a few more months between friends? Then, there would have been less noise, less competition, less frenzy. Maybe get some kind of promotional material in as many bakeries and pie shops around the country as possible. Maybe reintroduce the series over the Christmas holiday break, with two or three episodes across the week between holidays. Then, pair it up with a complimentary show, maybe give it a better lead in, maybe put it on Sunday evening where it might have a chance. Maybe go to a thirteen-episode-per-season schedule for some series, giving more time to concentrate on quality--this works for FX, BBC, etc. (It used to work for HBO, but that's another story...)

I'm always amused--and a little insulted--when the networks try to pass off their programming as rocket science. (Well, everyone except Ben. Hi, Ben! Leave 30 Rock alone, and I won't mock your talking car anymore...) Especially these days, when the niche channels are not just nipping at their heels but surpassing them in quality, acclaim, awards and--once in while--even ratings. Smart promotion, smart scheduling, a modicum of patience and a tolerance of quality. That's all it takes.

I doubt anyone will come along and, like the Piemaker, raise Daisies from the dead for more than a minute, but if there's anything I've learned from the show, it's that it never hurts to be optimistic.

That, and stay away from nuns in green habits.

3 comments:

  1. Isabel said...
  2. the facts ARE these: they are killing about the only show in at least us latin america and uk tv thet has artistic value and real substance, maybe not in the storylines for each episode but on the whole, just like amelia sounds like a dumb story but is actually a great film

  3. Ron said...
  4. Quite an intelligent post and I think you hit some of the nails right on the proverbial head. To be honest, I always thought PUSHING DAISIES was too smart and whimsical a series to ever be a huge hit. I guess we should be happy it was around for as long as it was. Let's be honest, the mass audience here is not big on anything too intelligent, too different or too challenging. If it were, shows like LOST, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, THE SHIELD, UGLY BETTY, ELI STONE and a handful of others would be attracting audiences on par with junk like the three versions of CSI that litter the CBS schedule. Still, blaming dumb TV viewers means ABC gets off the hook for making two major blunders: the nine month gap in seasons and the horrible "re-launch" this fall. It was clear ABC thought they could market PUSHING (along with ELI STONE and DIRTY SEXY MONEY) on the cheap. Clearly, they were wrong. The nine month gap and a nation wholly distracted by an election for the ages (which, by the way, is a good thing) conspired to decimate ratings across the board for most returning series. The weakest are those that were not on long enough in the first place to attract a loyal audience large enough to sustain them. It's no coincidence that the trio of fine series dropped by ABC were all in their first season when the writers strike stopped production cold. I supported the strike but it was common knowledge it would come with a price. ABC should have tried to squeeze in at least a couple of new segments of these shows last season and also done a better job of repeating them over the summer. Seriously, other than WIPEOUT (yes, I watched and still feel twinges of guilt), what else was on ABC that anyone tuned into? Summer re-runs that led into a vigorous true re-launch might have saved DAISIES, at least for a full season to be ordered. Alas, hind-sight is 20/20. Still, I don't want to call for the destruction of ABC. They dropped the ball here but, with few exceptions, they have some of the best marketing in the business. They also take chances. Shows like UGLY BETTY, LOST, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, ELI STONE and PUSHING DAISIES have helped redefine scripted network drama and ALL air on ABC. So, A for effort and, in the case of DAISIES, STONE and MONEY an F for follow-through.

  5. ANK said...
  6. Wow I couldn't have put it better myself. It is a true shame ABC's lack of intelligent advertising has led to the cancelation of one of the most entertaining shows around. It's unique, fun, and really beautiful to look at. One would think that with the right promotion it would have something to appeal to many different demographics. Anyway, I will be very sad to see it go!