As we wrap up another year of May 'sweeps'? we bid farewell to one show that has captured the imagination of millions, left audiences on the edge of their seats and will forever be remembered as one of the most groundbreaking network series of all time. I'm talking of course about ABC's Happy Town.
Authors Note: Happy Town was cancelled after two episodes.
No, clearly I'm talking about LOST. A pop-culture centerpiece for the last six years, wraps up this Sunday (!) with much fanfare. While viewers will be divided over the finale regardless of what happens, it's hard to argue against the success LOST has had as it leaves on a high note. Want proof? The finale is slated to get Super Bowl-sized ad buys.
As the LOST finale wraps up, I'm left scrambling for a new show to get hooked on. This past year when I tuned into ABC's FlashForward, I broke one of my cardinal rules of TV watching (Don't Ever, EVER Watch a TV Series in Its Premiere Season). The show started out great, with even a subtle nod to LOST to keep rabid LOST fans speculating about a link between the two shows. FlashForward started off with a 4.0 rating in the 18-49 demo with 12.47 million viewers but hit a low 2.1 rating with 7.1 million viewers. And just like that, it gets axed. Shame.
There's a disturbing trend at work here. Networks are wary to jump into big budget series and ride them out for the long haul and quick to cut their losses, leaving viewers frustrated for investing time into a show that usually ends with little closure. For examples of how this can end tragically, check out this list of awesomely bad TV show finales.
We've talked at length over the past few years about the continuing fragmentation of media. Consumers now have more choices than ever for places to get their news, find entertainment and stay connected with friends, and the commentary on this has been typically glowing. But there is a flip side to this digital revolution. As media becomes more and more fragmented, and audiences follow suit accordingly, there's less incentive for networks to get behind new big-budget TV dramas like LOST or FlashForward and ride them out when the going gets tough. New York Times writer Lorne Manly (great name, BTW) discussed this issue with LOST showrunners Damon Lindelof and Cartol Cuse in an NYT Q&A last week.
MANLY: Do you think a show like yours ' big budget, serialized, very intense, lots of characters ' can still work on network television?
CUSE: One of the nostalgic elements of experiencing the end of 'Lost'? is that I also think it's the end of an era. The media landscape has changed dramatically even in the six years of this show. Here we are, we're shooting a show, there are somewhere between 425 people who work on the show, 325 in Hawaii and 100 here in Los Angeles, we shot the show on Panavision, 35-millimeter film, we had two full crews ' the scale and the scope and the size of this, this is the most expensive television series made anywhere in the world. And in this media landscape, it's incredibly hard to capitalize something the way 'Lost'? has been capitalized. We have a fractured media environment, and there are many more choices, but as a result there are smaller resources for every show that gets made, and so we feel a little bit like we're blacksmiths in the Internet era. It's kind of sad because we are big fans of action-adventure and genre and things like that. And when you see the 'Lost'? finale, it's like a movie, and just as fans of television, it's sad to realize that there just won't be that many rolls of the dice of this size and scope.
Well, that sucks. Now we'll be left with safer bets, like dime-a-dozen criminal justice-themed shows (current 2010 U.S. shows include: Bones, Castle, The Closer, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Dark Blue, Detriot 1-8-7, Flashpoint, Fringe, In Plain Sight, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Los Angeles, Medium, The Mentalist, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Numb3rs, Psych, SouthLAnd, White Collar, The Whole Truth). And don't even get me started on reality shows. It's unfortunate that there is a very real possibility that primetime television will fail to continue to capture our imaginations in favor of more cost-conscious content.
The mythology of LOST is something that has continually kept fans theorizing, speculating and guessing over the past six years. The social engagement of the show was one of the most compelling reasons to watch. The intense level of fanaticism that would have my iPhone buzzing with texts about the origin of Jacob, post-episode message boards burning up with insanely convoluted theories about religion, philosophy, and metaphysics, along with the watercooler conversations in the office the next morning trying to figure out just what the hell Ben Linus is up to next.
I guess finding another show that will give me an experience like that is something that is truly lost.