Quality a Lost cause

Azhria Lilu

Nov 18, 2002
Derbyshire, UK
by Kevin Williamson
Calgary Sun

There’s trouble ahead when fans begin an online campaign to save your much-buzzed-about show even before it premieres.

That’s precisely what’s happening to Lost, the castaways-on-a-mysterious island adventure yarn from Alias mastermind J.J. Abrams.

Fans of Abrams, of Alias — maybe just of quality television that pushes the creative envelope — have reportedly begun organizing a “Save Lost” campaign, expecting that, not so long after the ABC drama debuts Sept. 22, it will be marked for extinction by network brass. Their concerns aren’t unfounded.

For one thing, Lost is an expensive proposition — the two-hour series pilot the Sun screened is as ambitious and cinematic as the small screen gets — and, two, it’s a drama that requires both the commitment and concentration of viewers.

It used to be the sort of positive advance word-of-mouth Lost is basking in was cause to celebrate; these days, it’s reason to fear.

Just ask the creators of Wonderfalls, the blink-and-you-missed-it mid-season drama from Fox that aired this past winter and vanished before the first thaw of spring.

A quirky, intelligent effort that could have been described as “Joan of Arcadia for smart people,” it lasted mere episodes before its cancellation — despite critical raves, online support and the fact it was buried out of popular view on the dead zone that is Friday nights.

Good shows dying early deaths is as old as the medium itself, of course. But what’s frustrating is that networks seem willing to stick it out through tough times with a low-rated series — as long as it’s reality-TV.

At the same time Wonderfalls was struggling, Playing It Straight — an adequately-pathetic is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay reality show on the same network — was in equally dire ratings woes. Only a few years ago, networks would have nurtured the drama and fed the gimmicky reality tripe to the dogs.

Not so anymore.

CBS, for one, didn’t yank the plug on either Big Brother or The Amazing Race when initial ratings were less than stellar. Instead, they were loyal to both series, not just for several episodes, but for several seasons.

Only now, five agonizing years into Big Brother’s housesitting antics, have the ratings risen out of the basement.

The Amazing Race, which debuted in fall 2001 to such lacklustre ratings it was sent to the minors — i.e.: the summer season — has just these past few months finally done well enough to justify a sixth edition for the fall (albeit on Saturdays, hardly a ratings bastion).

The late, great Brandon Tartikoff, chief architect of NBC’s stellar lineup in the ’80s, was famed for standing by low-rated shows that he believed in — Hill Street Blues, Cheers and Crime Story among them.

It’s hard to believe that he would have similarly felt that way about, say, Fear Factor.

But those were the days when the three broadcast networks had the entire pie to themselves — before the onslaught of cable stations and the multi-channel universe — and now networks, admittedly, don’t have the luxury to support low-rated series as they used to.

And if they do, expensive dramas such as Wonderfalls, The Tick and Keen Eddie aren’t going to be their priority — it’s going to be cheap, disposable reality product and certainly not based on the particular taste of any single network boss a la Tartikoff.

Should this logic hold true, those would-be Lost fans may find even their pre-emptive distress signals are too little, too late.

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Azhria Lilu

Nov 18, 2002
Derbyshire, UK
So, regardless of its chances, does this guy think it's a good show? Or not?

He seems to refer to the people who would watch it as "fans of quality television", so I guess he likes it.
Dec 12, 2003
That article could not be more correct. It is so unfortunate that well-written, well-acted shows get the axe so quickly while some piece of stuff reality show or dumbed-down "buddy comedy" lasts for years. I don't know what the answer is to this depressing trend. It would take thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people starting a revolt against reality television to probably even begin to make any kind of difference to the networks. It's so unfortunate and so frustrating.

By the way, "Lost" is one of the very few new shows I'm looking forward to this fall. Looks like I could be watching a lot of ESPN.


Sydney's Lover
Nov 21, 2003
Well guys, let me tell ya - I watched Lost already. As you know, when a series is about to premiere in the fall, the Pilot is show way in advance and the Pilot is shown to priviledged people... and somehow it turns up on the Internet.

My cousin came in June and he had both the 2-hour pilot of Lost and Joey on his laptop... and I watched Lost - it was awesome.

If enough buzz is created for the show before it airs and the premiere gets decent ratings, I doubt this show will be cancelled.

It's gonna be really, really good.
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