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Checking in on Fox’s “Human Target”: As a longtime comic book geek, I’m not ashamed to admit that not only was I already familiar with the character of the Human Target from his adventures in the DC Comics universe, but I’m also one of those who actually watched when broadcast television first tried to make a television series out of the adventures of the man known as Christopher Chance. Few, however, would dare to suggest that ABC’s “Human Target” attempt – which aired in 1992, starred Rick Springfield, and lasted for a grand total of seven episodes – was a true classic of the comic-book TV genre…and that includes Chi McBride, who plays Winston, Chance’s partner, on the Fox series.
“Somebody asked me a crazy question today, like, ‘I heard that there was a rumor that Rick Springfield was supposed to be doing this one,’” said McBride, when I talked to him during the January TCA press tour. “I was, like, ‘What are you, goofy? The Human Target in a walker?’ I remember that old show…and that was pretty bad. We’re the 2.0 version of that, and it will make you forget about that thing.”
Based on the episodes I’ve seen, I’d have to agree with McBride…and so, it would seem, would our man John Paulsen, who described “Human Target” as “a fun ride.”
“Even though the series is heavy on action,” said Paulsen, “it has a lighthearted, fun feel to it — think Jack Bauer with a sense of humor — which is underlined by Chance’s charm (with his usually female clientele) and the dynamic between Winston and Guerrero, who do not particularly like each other.”
Guerrero, for those of you who haven’t yet checked out the series, is Chance’s technical expert, and he’s played by Jackie Earle Haley. Between this role and his memorable turn as the somewhat psychotic Rorschach in “Watchmen,” you’d think that he was paying off DC Comics for all the great gigs they’ve been providing him…and, indeed, in January, I asked him outright if this was the case.
“I should be, right?” he laughed. “Yeah, I’ve got them on the kickback plan.”
“I’d never been a huge comic book fan,” he said. “Growing up, I could never really get into them. When I was a kid, I was a super-slow reader, and when I’d open up a comic book, I couldn’t figure out what to look at first. The pictures? The words? Just the pacing of it kind of threw me off. Cut to years later, though, and I absolutely fell in love with ‘Watchmen.’ I mean, I became a ‘Watchmen’ fan, and since then, I’ve really begun to understand and appreciate comic books and graphic novels, especially the more grown-up ones, I guess you’d say. Right now, I’d almost have to say that my favorite comic book…and this will surprise you…is ‘V for Vendetta.’ It’s because it’s…it’s literature, man. It’s just an absolutely phenomenal, thought-provoking piece of work.”
Whether or not Haley feels the same way about the source material which inspired his current series remains unconfirmed, but when it comes to watching Fox’s “Human Target,” you’ll almost certainly enjoy it more without having read the original comic books. Why waste time nitpicking about continuity issues between the two mediums when you can enjoy each on their own merits? Having seen the next two episodes of “Human Target,” I can tell you that, while it has very little to do with anything that’s seen print in the past, it’s still a fun hour of adventure, humor, and even a bit of drama. Mr. Paulsen had observed that, as of when he composed his piece, “the show hasn’t done much in the way of a serialized plot, so new viewers could pick it up without missing much,” and while that still remains more or less true, the series is finally getting around to delving into the mysterious background of Christopher Chance, played by Mark Valley.
On March 10th, Chance reunites with a fiery former flame (played by Leonor Varela) when he is called to South America to rescue an archeologist (Kris Marshall) targeted by a South American army and a deadly bounty hunter, and although Chance’s past isn’t exactly what you’d call an open book by episode’s end, it does give you some insight into his romantic history. The episode on the 17th, however, is arguably the best installment of the series to date. Lennie James, late of “Jericho,” guest stars as Chance’s former partner, and although you arguably learn more about James’s character than you do Chance’s, it’s an episode that’s filled with both action and emotion. In addition to finding Chance getting caught up with the FBI, it’s also notable for expanding Guerrero’s storyline, which means that – woo-hoo! – Haley will hopefully be taking more of a spotlight in future episodes. Not that he and McBride aren’t consistently contributing to the overall success of the series, but any chance to get more Jackie Earle Haley is a chance we’re ready to take.
Haven’t checked out “Human Target” yet? Now’s the time, especially with upcoming episodes featuring guest appearances from Armand Assante and Lee Majors.
“Human Target” returns to Fox on Wednesday, March 10th, at 8 PM.
A Chat with Adrian Hodges (“Survivors,” “Primeval”): Adrian Hodges has been beloved by fans of BBC America’s ever-growing sci-fi lineup ever since presenting them with “Primeval,” which he created along with Tim Haines, but they’ll soon have a new reason to give him a hug when they seem him on the street. Americans may not be familiar with the 1970s British TV series known as “Survivors,” but, hey, that’s okay: it just means that they’ll be able to dig into Hodges’ new take on the series – which premieres this Saturday night on BBC America – without any preconceptions. Plus, as you’ll soon read in my chat with Mr. Hodges, which took place a few hours after the TCA panel for “Survivors,” he’s taken great pains to make sure even those who are familiar with the original series will, by the end of the first episode of this new version, realize that he’s got plenty of surprises in store for them, too. Oh, and listen up, “Primeval” fans: you’d well to read beyond the bits about “Survivors,” as we chatted about the status of the third series of “Primeval” as well as the oft-discussed feature film based on the show. There’s also some stuff about other items on Hodges’ C.V., and…well, you’d just better go ahead and read it for yourself, hadn’t you?
Adrian Hodges: Wow, look at your recorder. I used to do a bit of journalism when I first started out, but my tape recorder was… (Holds his hands several inches apart, then laughs) That’s technology for you!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, mine’s shrunk by two or three times in size just in the past few years! (Laughs) Well, first off, I just want to say that I’m a big “Primeval” fan.
AH: Thank you! Cool!
BE: I was not familiar with the original 1970s version of “Survivors,” but I take it that you were at least somewhat of a fan of it.
AH: Yeah, I was, in that kind of general way we are when we’re kids and we watch TV. I was maybe 15 or 16, something like that, and I remember very clearly the impact of the first episode. If I’m honest, I’m hazy about some of the other, later episodes, but I do remember the extraordinary shock of the imagery of a husband dying, of things that were stand-out images in my head, and you carry that through the years. It was something I remembered very well, so it was really kind of great to be asked to have another look at it, you know?
BE: So they pitched it to you, then?
AH: They did. What happened was that I’d done “Primeval,” as you know, and I was very actively looking for a genre show that I could do in a slightly…well, in Britain, it’s in a later timeslot. Something that was a bit more…I don’t want to say more adult, because I think that “Primeval” is adult, but not a family show in the same way. However you define “family.” (Laughs) So “Survivors” was perfect. BBC had had this great success with reviving “Doctor Who,” so they were looking at some of their old shows and saying, “Well, that one wouldn’t work, but maybe this one would.” And “Survivors” was one they thought might work again, so they basically came to me and said, “What do you think?” And I thought it was great, not so much because of the set-up, not just because of the post-apocalyptic thing, which is fascinating, but it’s kind of not the point. The point is what happens afterwards, and that’s the fun of it for me as a writer, ‘cause you don’t often get a chance to write about people in the most extreme situation. So that’s why I wanted to do it.
BE: What was the profile of the original show? Was it semi-high? I ask because I’m a kind of an Anglophile, so I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it.
AH: I don’t think it was, really. In terms of being a success at the time, it was, but it wasn’t, like, a thing like with “Doctor Who,” where you carry that memory with you, and so that when it was revived, there was this huge desire to like it. It was one of those shows where…people didn’t want to not like “Doctor Who.” They wanted to like it. It was a nice thing to happen, and it doesn’t often happen. There aren’t many shows that people are so fond of that they can go with that attitude to them. Usually, as you know, when you remake or re-imagine a show, you get the opposite reaction, which is that people don’t really want you to do it, because they liked it the first time. And, now, there’s been such an acceleration of remaking of formats. It’s a very dangerous area. I thought “Survivors” was a good one because it was a success at the time, which proved that it was a strong idea, but it wasn’t so well known that it would be something that everybody would be saying, “Oh, but you didn’t do that scene, you didn’t do it like this, you didn’t do that.” The truth is, it was the best part of 40 years ago, and it’s not a classic. It’s a very good show. The first episode of the original is a model of brilliant series set-up writing, and, indeed, much of the rest of it. But it is fundamentally a show which was well-liked but probably not as well-remembered as some. Not everything can be a classic, you know. That’s the way it is. I couldn’t believe that “Edge of Darkness” was being remade. It’s amazing, after all these years, to suddenly see it. So stuff comes around.
BE: So did you revisit that first episode of “Survivors” before you made this new version, or did you just kind of go from memory and dive into the new version?
AH: I watched the whole of the first series before I started writing, and I don’t usually do that with things where there’s existing material. I mean, in a completely different genre, I’ve just done a new version of a film called “The Go Between.” I’ve adapted the L.P. Hartley novel, and I didn’t look at the film of that, because I deliberately didn’t want to be influenced by it. I’ve only looked at it relatively recently, and it’s interesting to see what they did and what I did, and that’s fine. But with “Survivors,” I thought that it was…well, because I was basing some of my material on that original material, it seemed respectful and sensible to look at the way they’d done it, and also to remind myself what they’d done well and maybe what they hadn’t done quite so well, just to see how it would go. I always knew I was going to move away from that version quite quickly, but I wanted to make sure that whatever was good…I mean, I’m not crazy: if it’s good, I’m going to do it again. (Laughs)
BE: How did you go about selecting your cast? Was it a case of finding folks you’d worked with in the past, or was it more of a standard audition process?
AH: There’s a little bit of that. I mean, because of the way television works, as you know, there’s a certain pressure to use a certain profile of actor in certain roles. We knew we needed a leading lady that meant something to the British audience, and that’s, in truth, not that big a pool of people. It’s tough to find exactly the right person, particularly a woman who’s grown up, a woman with children who’s believable as an ordinary woman. So Julie (Graham) was actually pretty straightforward, because she was one of only one or two who really fit the bill…and, luckily, she wanted to do it! So at that point, we closed that. That was done. The other guys…it’s an interest process. Paterson (Joseph), funnily enough, was a very early choice, and then we went ‘round the houses looking at other people and then came all the way back to Paterson. And that sometimes happens, ‘cause it’s a bit like when you get something right first time, and you think, “Have I really got it right?” And you go and try prove it sixteen other different ways, but you still come back to the right answer, so that was Paterson. The others…it’s just a question of trying to find the right faces for the roles, the right talent and the right look, and that’s hopefully what we did.
(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched the first episode of “Survivors” yet, then you’ll want to head off for a bit and pop back ‘round after you’ve had a chance to see it.)
BE: Freema Agyeman, I would think, would be considered high profile, especially here, given her time on “Doctor Who.”
AH: Well, Freema was…you’ve seen the first episode?
BE: I have, yes.
AH: As you know, we do something with Freema where…I was very keen that we make it clear to people that nobody was safe, and that was the thinking behind that. The decision to actually approach Freema wasn’t mine. That was the BBC who thought that would be a cool thing to do. I wanted to do something both to the original fan base and to the people watching the show now, and…the character that Freema plays – Jenny – was one of the ones who did survive in the original. I wanted to make sure that people didn’t think they knew where it was all going. In the original, Jenny goes to see the doctor, and the next morning, the doctor’s dead and Jenny goes off to London. But in this, the doctor survives and Jenny dies. So, y’know, it’s kind of funny, that. (Smiles)
BE: Speaking of that aspect, where nobody is safe, one of the things I liked best about the first episode is that with Julie’s character, Abby, you constantly believe that her son could very well be dead. That made it extremely gripping.
AH: I hope so.
BE: Obviously, that’s a thread that continues throughout the series…
AH: And he may well be dead. We’ll just have to see! It’s very important that you believe it, I think. And I think the thing there that I find so moving is tha,t if you knew he was dead, you could either commit suicide or begin living again. If you don’t know, you’re in a state of suspended animation. You are forced to hope. As I say more than once in the show, and it’s a phrase that other people have used, it’s not despair that kills you, it’s hope.
BE: You mentioned during the panel that you have high hopes for a third series of “Survivors.” Do you have an end game in mind? Not necessarily how long you’d want it to run, but whenever it does end, do you know how you’d like it to end?
AH: Yes, pretty much, I do. I have a very clear idea of where I want the characters to be…if I keep the same group of characters. And some of that depends on actors wanting to do it. I really would like to get three years of the show, so if I could do that, I would think that it’s up to me to give a satisfying ending. If we then found that people wanted more, then we’d regenerate it and keep doing different things. There’s plenty of options. It’s just that I think, for this group of characters, three years would be about right. At that point, you’d probably begin to see where they were going. And you want to settle them. I don’t like stories where you’re left in mid-air at the end of a season.
BE: If you can answer this without giving anything away for people who haven’t seen the show yet, which character would you say will surprise viewers the most insofar as how they change from the beginning to the end?
AH: I think that’s an easy one, in some ways. I think that Tom Price, played by Max Beasley, is a constant source of surprise even to himself.
BE: Now, he’s also someone who was pretty high profile…at least from my point of view, anyway, as I was a big “Hotel Babylon” fan. He seems like a pretty decent “get.”
AH: He was great, and he was the only actor we approached for that role. I should’ve mentioned that at the beginning. He was literally the only one that we saw, and he liked it, so that was easy.
BE: He’s certainly a complex character, at least based on the first episode, where you’re thinking, “Surely he’s going to change, given the current circumstances.” But, uh, no. Not really. (Laughs)
AH: No, not really. (Laughs) And he’s…I was kind of anxious to avoid the word “redemption,” but…there is a journey to go on, but it’s a complicated one, and it’s certainly one towards levels of feeling that he didn’t know he had. But whether that makes him a good man, I kind of doubt.
BE: Did any of the characters develop as a result of the people you cast in the roles? In other words, were they originally going a different way, but you realized it was easier to play to the actor a bit more?
AH: Yeah, there is a process that goes on there. I think one of the things about writing a series that’s such a wonderful challenge all the time is that you keep on developing the series right up to the point where you shoot a scene. There was a quality, for example, about Philip Rhys as Aal that I found…there’s a kind of sweetness about him, a softness, a gentleness, that’s very appealing, and as soon as he was in that role, Aal’s character became clearer and clearer to me. I mean, I had a starting point for Aal, but writing is sometimes a bit of a mystery. You don’t always know why you go somewhere with a character. It just seems like a good idea. And I think that the interaction between Philip and Aal was just so interesting that…with another actor, it might’ve gone in a different way, but Philip’s a really masculine man who, at the same time, seems soft and gentle as well. He found something in himself that I really liked. So Aal’s journey towards a kind of uneasy but paternal relationship with Najid is very touching, I think. That could’ve gone in a different way, but as soon as I saw Phil, it began to make sense.
BE: Are there any other series that you’d consider tackling a reboot of?
AH: I’d consider it, but…is there any one thing in particular? No. That’s tricky. There are books that I’d like to do that I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to do. There’s a book called “The Magus,” by John Fowles, which is a massive obsession of mine, but the rights are held by United Artists or something, and it’s impossible to get them. Um…are there any other series? Let me think about that. (Considers the question) In this genre, possibly not, because there aren’t that many that have the ability to be of their time and also timeless, which I think is the appeal of “Survivors.” “Blake’s 7” is the other one that people often talk about redoing, and I know that somebody’s trying to do that. That seems to me to be…in a way, other shows have come along and done the same thing and done it well, and in a way, what would you be adding if you went back to “Blake’s 7”? You have to see where the changes are that make it interesting. So off the top of my head, no. But that isn’t to say that I wouldn’t if the right thing came along.
BE: I’ve never actually seen it, but there’s a British series I’ve read about on Wikipedia that sounds like it’s ripe for revival. Have you ever heard of “Timeslip”?
AH: Hmmm. Okay, I’m trying to place that one…
BE: It was a kid’s show, I believe.
AH: It’s funny, somebody mentioned another show to me today, and I’m struggling to remember that one as well. When I was kid, time travel was absolutely my #1 fun thing, and I still love it. There’s no time travel in “Survivors,” obviously, but there’s lot of it in “Primeval”…and even more of it in the next series! (Laughs) It’s just something so endlessly appealing about the notion of time and history being rearranged, you know? It’s just very attractive.
BE: Speaking of “Primeval,” I wanted to ask you a few questions about that series as well.
BE: I was actually here when you guys kickstarted the series at the TCA tour.
AH: Two years ago, yeah.
BE: It’s a great concept and great use of special effects.
AH: Oh, thank you.
BE: Now if I remember correctly…and I may not…the person who helped to design the show’s creatures actually based them in some way on scientific fact or, at least, scientific speculation.
AH: Well, what happened was…Tim (Haines) is really a scientist, anyway. That’s his background. He comes from a science background and a journalism background. Before he was a drama guy, he was a documentary guy, so the expertise that he brings to the show, apart from his storytelling ability, is in that area. And because he did “Walking with Dinosaurs,” he really made himself an expert in the special effects area. I think Tim is probably ahead of anybody in England in terms of appreciation of what special effects and CGI can do. I mean, he knows about animatronics, too, but those are slightly out of fashion because of cost, and CGI is obviously in, and Tim is brilliant with CGI. I’ll be the first to admit that that’s his thing…and it’s not mine! (Laughs) So we…yeah, obviously, we kind of muck about with the creatures and things, but their starting premise is always more or less true.
BE: To talk again about the whole nobody-is-safe thing, man, Douglas Henshall’s departure from the series…? Talk about startling!
AH: Yeah, well, it was meant to be! (Laughs) One of the things that can happen with a show like “Primeval” is that, because you’re dancing with death every week and being saved by the skin of your teeth, the audience begins to get lazy about thinking that there’s no real danger, that it won’t actually be real. And it was particularly kind of shocking to me that he would die at the end of a gun, because…it’s not a dinosaur in the end, it’s his crazy ex-wife with a gun. And that worked. That was always the ending I imagined for him. I always knew that Helen would be the end of him. It was not intended to be so early in that season, however, but unfortunately that was how it worked out with Douglas, because he wanted to go on and do different things, so we brought it in early in the series.
BE: How thrilled was he about his demise?
AH: He was great about it. He wanted the character to die. He didn’t want to just step through the anomaly and maybe reappear one day. He wanted it, so he was fully behind it and was okay with that. When he told us that he was going to move on, it was a big shock, because I thought that he was going to do the whole series, and it was very late in the day and we’d done a lot of storylining at that point, so we had to really reconsider everything pretty sharpish. But he was cool, and I said, “Look, you know, I think Cutter’s going to have to die, because it’s better from a storytelling point of view. I’ve got to give him that, because I can use that legacy in the drama for the rest of the series.” And he was absolutely on the side of that. He was cool about it.
BE: So what’s the status of the series? Is there going to be another series? And is there going to be a movie? Because I know there’s been talk about it for awhile.
AH: I hope there’ll be both! There will be another series, yeah. There’s going to be 13 more episodes, which we start shooting in March, so I’m right in the middle of that when I get home. We’ll start…I imagine they’ll start transmitting in the UK early next year, so it’s probably right about the same in America. It’s a longer gap than I would’ve wanted, but unfortunately there was a problem with ITV, and it took us awhile to get it sorted out. The film, I’m afraid, is just endless. It’s… (Sighs) Man, you know, my whole life is ticking by during these negotiations! (Laughs) There is still every intention of doing it, but we are still not completely finished with the deal with Warner Brothers, and the guy who’s writing it…oh, now it’s gone out of my head for a second, but…oh, Akiva Goldsman! He’s absolutely cool, he wants to do it, he’s very, very keen. We talk to him on a fairly regular basis. But it has been a living nightmare trying to get a deal sorted out. But I think we’re nearly there.
BE: When you do that, is that going to be moving on from the series, or will it be a different tale altogether?
AH: Yeah, it will be a different tale, but that’s going to be an interesting question, because what we have to do with Akiva when the deal is finally signed is sort out the parameters of where he can go with it and where we can’t let him go because it would ruin the franchise. So, clearly, we don’t expect him to follow the storyline of the TV show particularly, but we do expect him to make it possible for us to come back to the TV show intact. He can’t do something with the big-screen version that would make ours completely wrong, you know? So we have a three-month option with him at the outset whereby he comes to us with his story ideas, and Tim and I have the right to say “no” if that doesn’t fit with what we want to do with the show. I mean, I hope we won’t have to say “no,” but Akiva understands that, and he’s known that from the beginning, so it would be pretty silly if he came and said, “Oh, we’re going to do it completely differently.”
BE: A minute ago, you talked about a book you’d like to adapt. You actually adapted “Metroland” a few years ago.
AH: I did, yeah!
BE: How did that come about? Was it something you’d wanted to do?
AH: No, that was a weird one. It’s a long time ago now, so I’ll have to stop and think about it… (Laughs) …but the guy who produced it, Andrew Bendel, absolutely was crazy about the book. I think he really identified with it – he was kind of from that part of London – and he just kept showing it to me and kept saying, “Look, we should do this.” And I hadn’t been writing very long at that point, and I wasn’t sure of it, because it was a pretty hard book to adapt. It was in three separate parts, and it’s very hard to make that work in a movie. But he kept on saying, “Come on, come on, come on, there’s something good in it, we can do it,” so in the end, I did. And I’m glad I did.
BE: What’s the project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
AH: (Laughs) From the critics? Or from the audience?
BE: All of the above. Whichever one you think just deserved more appreciation.
AH: Let me think about that for just a minute. I’ve been very lucky, to tell you the truth. Things find their own level. But let me think about my CV for just a minute. (Considers the question) I did a two-part thriller a couple of years…no, more than that, more like seven or eight years ago…called “Heaven on Earth,” which probably hasn’t been seen here, but it’s about a young couple who end up in a religious community because she came from one of those communities. It’s not exactly Amish, but that kind of community, of which there are more in England than people realize. That was sort of a thriller, because basically the guy’s crazy when he goes in, and he takes it over. It did okay, but it never quite clicked, you know? And I kind of wish something had clicked for that show. I don’t know why it didn’t. So that’s one that I kind of regret not doing better. In America…not in Britain, where it won the BAFTA…I did a show called “Charles II: The Power and the Passion,” which was called “The Last King” over here for reasons that I still don’t know. That didn’t really click over here particularly, and that is a real shame. The reason that A&E showed was much shorter than the one that I wrote and the one that was seen here. It was an hour shorter than the one that was shown in the UK, and that was a horrible thing to do to it. They wanted to show it as one three-hour show, and…that was the worst of both worlds, because it was too long at three hours for anyone in their right mind to watch in one go, but it was too short for the story to make any sense, because it had lost an hour! That was a source of great upset to me, and to this day, I won’t watch the three-hour version. It’s…it’s crazy. So in this country, that would be a source of real regret, because it’s a show I’m hugely proud of. It was Joe Wright’s first big television series, and he went on to do “Pride and Predjudice” afterwards. And it’s brilliantly directed. So I remain very passionate about “Charles II” and I kind of regret that no one in America has seen the proper version.
BE: You should check with Acorn Media. They’re putting out a lot of the BBC material that Warner Brothers isn’t putting out.
AH: Oh, really? I’d like to think that they’d do it. I think that A&E obviously still owns the DVD rights, but it would be nice to think that it could be seen properly.
BE: Last question, just to bring it back to “Survivors.” I don’t know how American television you watch, but is there a point of comparison at all to one of our programs? Because to me, it certainly reminded me of “Jericho.”
AH: Yes, I did watch “Jericho,” and to me, that’s a compliment, because I think “Jericho” is a very good show, particularly in its first season. I was aware of “Jericho,” as I say, but…it’s not so much a similarity to that show in particular, although the premise is obviously not all that different. But there’s been such a kind of confident upsurge in really good American sci-fi, fantasy, or whatever you want to call it shows in the last few years. It was more a general appreciation on my part of the incredible surge of creativity in that area in recent years. There is no point of comparison between “Survivors” and “Battlestar Galactica,” but I was very inspired by “Battlestar” because it showed what you can do when you look at an older series in a fresh way. Just like “Primeval” is in no way like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but was very inspired by it. So it’s that kind of thing. The great work that’s being done in America, the really good stuff, is very inspiring.
BE: Excellent. Well, I think that’ll do it, Adrian. Thank you very much for your time!
AH: It’s been a pleasure.
TV in the 2000s: 15 Shows Canceled After Appearing in Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings*: *Probably Coincidentally
Back in 2005, Bullz-Eye kicked off a regularly-recurring feature that’s become a staple of our site: the TV Power Rankings, which gives us a chance to offer up our opinions once every six months on the best that television has to offer. Now that we’re looking back at the entire decade in our TV in the 2000s feature, however, it gave us an opportunity to look back at all of the shows that have appeared within the Rankings over the course of its history, and when we did, it was a little eyebrow-raising to see how many of our favorite programs bit the dust almost immediately after receiving accolades from us. We’re pretty sure their cancellations weren’t our fault…or, at least, not entirely. Anyway, take a look back through the list with us, won’t you? If nothing else, it shows that we’ve got good taste, even if the average viewer doesn’t always share our opinions.
1. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003 – 2006) – “Even if this is indeed the end for one of Fox’s all time greatest shows, it is better to have loved and lost…oh, the hell with that, Fox is freaking nuts if they cancel this show.” So said David Medsker in February 2006. But did they listen to him? They did not. “We’re not ones to buy into the whole dumbing-down-of-society thing,” Medsker added, “but if this show gets canned while ‘According to Jim’ lives on, maybe there’s something to it after all.” Oh, yeah, there’s definitely something to it: “According to Jim” stayed on the air until June 2009.
2. Deadwood (HBO, 2004 – 2006) – When it was announced that Season 3 would be the last for the semi-historical look at the wild west, there was really only one name that John Paulsen could call the folks at HBO. We probably shouldn’t use it here, but if you need a hint, it starts with a “C” and rhymes with “sock pluckers.” “Everything about the show – the language, the acting, the story, the sets and the costumes – is colorful,” Paulsen observed in February 2007, “and whether or not HBO wants to admit it, they’re going to miss ‘Deadwood’ once it’s gone for good.” They must’ve been in some serious denial, then: creator David Milch reportedly agreed to do a proper wrap-up of the series through a pair of “Deadwood” movies” for the network, but things never really got beyond the discussion stage.
3. Invasion (ABC, 2005 – 2006) – The fall of 2005 was a good time in prime time for sci-fi fans, with each of the big three networks offering up an entry from the genre, but by the spring of 2006, their cheers had turned to tears. NBC’s “Surface” was permanently submerged after 15 episodes, while CBS’s “Threshold” crossed the point of no return after only nine episodes had aired. Give ABC some credit, however, for at least sticking with their entry for the full 22. “’Invasion’ started slowly, but has steadily ramped up the creepiness,” said John Paulsen in February ’06, acknowledging that, although it gave its audience lots of questions, at least it was providing them with more answers than “Lost” was. Unfortunately, there was still plenty to be answered when the show was canceled, and things got even more depressing when Tyler Labine talked to Bullz-Eye about what might’ve been. “(Creator Shaun Cassidy) had written this bible for the show, and he had written this amazing five-season arc,” said Labine. “We were just floored. Our jaws were literally on the floor after he explained it to us. We were, like, ‘Wow, we’re on for a really great ride!’” What a shame for us all that the ride ended as quickly as it did.
4. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, 2005 – 2006) – Well, you can’t say that we weren’t honest about offering up both the pros and the cons of Aaron Sorkin’s behind-the-scenes look into a late-night comedy series. “The show is pompous, unrealistic and ridiculously left-wing,” admitted Jason Zingale in February 2007, “but it also makes for some damn good television.” Unfortunately, with an awful lead-in – seriously, who thought that pairing the show with “Heroes” was a good idea? – “Studio 60” didn’t develop enough of a following to earn a second season.
5. Rome (HBO, 2005 – 2007) – In its first season, “Rome” turned up at #18 in the Power Rankings, but by the time Season 2 aired, it had leapt to #6. Not that such success earned the show a third season (it was apparently ridiculously expensive to produce, which you can absolutely believe if you’ve ever seen it, but at least the news of its cancellation came in time for John Paulsen to register his annoyance within the February 2007 Rankings. “As it turns out, ‘Rome’ isn’t the heir to the throne of ‘The Sopranos,’” he wrote. “Instead, sadly, it’s a bastard stepchild, just like ‘Deadwood.’” Creator Bruno Heller was probably even more pissed than Paulsen, having mapped out his vision of the series all the way through its fifth season, but as recently as December 2008, Heller was still sounding optimistic about the chances for a “Rome” movie. “I would love to round that show off,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. Hey, we’re behind you 100%, Bruno.
6. Four Kings (NBC, 2006) – If you don’t remember this sitcom, you’re forgiven, as it premiered in January 2006 and was gone by March. Still, it made enough of an impression to earn Honorable Mention status in the February 2006 rankings. “Four Kings” was created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the duo behind “Will and Grace,” and featured Seth Green as one of its cast members, so you might think it surprising that it was off the air within seven episodes (and with a remaining six episodes still unaired). Looking back, however, the fact that the greatest praise Jason Zingale could heap upon the show in his write-up was that “it’s a worthy quick-fix until NBC finds a better alternative” should’ve given us a clue that it wasn’t long for this world.
7. Jericho (CBS, 2006 – 2008) – It was the little show that could, our “Jericho.” It started with an awesomely dark premise – a nuclear bomb goes off in the U.S., and we view the repercussions through the eyes of a small town in Kansas – and, after figuring out its direction (the attempts to meld some “Little House on the Prairie” aspects to the show were soon phased out), the series found its footing, kicked some creative ass, and was promptly canceled. But what’s this…? The show’s diehard fanbase made enough noise (and sent enough nuts) to get the show a 7-episode second season which lived up to everyone’s expectations and then some. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the ratings, but those who actually tuned in for Season 2 know how many twists, turns, and outright shocks it included. There’s still talk of a possible “Jericho” movie. We can only hope.
8. Journeyman (NBC, 2007 – 2008) – Ross Ruediger acknowledged in November 2007 that everything from “Back to the Future” and “Quantum Leap” to “Somewhere in Time” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife” could be seen as inspirations for this series, but he assured readers that “its brilliance lies in its ability to grab from wherever and cohesively bring it all back around into a series that delivers something special every week.” Despite Ruediger’s contention that the show “continually demonstrates the potential to become a classic sci-fi/romance series for the books,” the combination of so-so ratings and the curse of being produced by another studio (20th Century Fox) resulted in NBC deciding against a second season.
9. Dirty Sexy Money (ABC, 2007 – 2009) – It could’ve been a throwback to the glory days of “Dynasty,” but with a cast including Donald Sutherland, Peter Krause, and Jill Clayburgh, the series quickly evolved into something more substantial. “At first glance, it seemed the foibles of the rich and powerful Darling family would strictly be seen through the eyes of their comparatively ‘normal’ attorney, Nick George, and we’d all have a good laugh at how out of touch they were from the real world,” I wrote in November 2007. “Gradually, however, we’re reminded that, although we’re still in the gutter, the Darlings are looking at the same stars we are.” Although the series survived the writer’s strike to return for a second season, the ratings were such that, at the end of December 2008, it was pulled from the schedule. By the time it returned, it had already been canceled, making the season / series ending cliffhanger all the more cruel.
10. Pushing Daisies (ABC, 2007 – 2009) – Anyone who can appreciate a show about a piemaker who can bring people back from the dead can surely also appreciate the irony that, with such a strange premise, its days were always going to be numbered. Indeed, John Paulsen acknowledged as much in November 2007, but he was still optimistic, praising the shows cinematography, sets, and costumes, then observing that “’Pushing Daisies’ debuted to strong ratings and seems to be doing just fine.” And so it was, right up until the writer’s strike, which derailed it and every other series that had been gathering momentum. Once it returned, things were never quite the same, which Paulsen acknowledged in November 2008, bemoaning, “It has pretty much devolved into a weekly procedural format that lacks the compelling season-long storylines that made the first season so much fun.” Why do I suspect that the changes were the result of ABC wanting the series to be more accessible? If that was indeed the case, then it sure as hell backfired.
11. Reaper (The CW, 2007 – 2009) – Best pilot episode of the decade? If not, it’s certainly on the short list of contenders. A show about three slackers working as demon bounty hunters for Satan may have sounded like a dude’s version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but many nonbelievers were swayed over to the “Reaper” camp by the deliciously devilish performance of Ray Wise as Lucifer himself. The series had a few creative struggles in its first season, but Bob Westal assured readers, “There’s plenty of room here for seasons more of good-natured deviltry.” Indeed, when it returned for Season 2, he confirmed that “the travails of Sam Oliver remain a highly reliable source of big laughs and an occasional thrill,” adding that “’Reaper’ has done a fabulous job of balancing emotion with comic timing and spook-hunting slapstick.” And how was it rewarded for these successes? With cancellation, of course.
12. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox, 2007 – 2009) – A “Terminator” TV series? Surely the third movie killed the franchise dead, no? Well, you’d think so, but John Paulsen wrote of “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” in November 2007, “the series has accomplished a major feat: overcoming the skepticism of both critics and fans and being able to translate the ‘Terminator’ story to a serialized format.” It still gave people headaches with all of its back-and-forth time travel, of course, but once you put on your Suspension of Disbelief hat, you realized that show runner Josh Friedman and company had found a way to combine the necessary technological components of the ‘Terminator’ mythos with deep characterization. When Fox canceled the show at the end of Season 2, it seemed like an inexplicable move. “Why drop the show just as you’ve got a new ‘Terminator’ movie coming out?” we wondered. “Surely it can only help the series!” And then we saw the movie and understood: Poor “Sarah” never had a chance at salvation.
13. Life on Mars (ABC, 2008 – 2009) – Talk about a show that was doomed from the start…and we’re not even talking about the retooling that the series went through in its early stages, when it was originally going to be helmed by David E. Kelley. No, the problem with “Life on Mars” is that it was an American adaptation of a much beloved British series, and the majority of the fans of the original version steadfastly refused to watch the new version. The show’s premise (a cop gets knocked unconscious in 2009 and wakes up in 1973) was already going to result in an uphill ratings battle, but take those who would ordinarily be its core audience out of the picture, and…well, here we are back where we started. If there’s any good thing to be said about the cancelation of “Life on Mars,” it’s that the producers had enough advance notice about their fate to actually write an ending. Of course, half the fans hated it, but, hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?
14. Dollhouse (Fox, 2009) – Well, really, what did we expect from a show that was dogged by rumors before it even premiered that Fox had no particular love for it? Granted, after “Firefly,” we’d come to expect that sort of thing, but when “Dollhouse” came slowly out of the gate, we never expected to see a Season 2. But the show’s creative direction shaped up quickly, leading David Medsker to declared in February 2009, “With crack supporting players Harry Lennix and Olivia Williams providing ballast, some remarkable visuals, and numerous creepy/thought-provoking ideas, we think ‘Dollhouse’ has earned our support.” To our surprise, Fox actually renewed the series, but their support didn’t last long: just before we went to press with the November 2009 Power Rankings, the plug was officially pulled. In his write-up / obituary for the show, Medsker made no attempt to deny the flaws of “Dollhouse,” but he spoke for many when he said of the series, “We may not have always loved it, but that won’t stop us from watching until the very end.”
15. Kings (NBC, 2009) – NBC shot its own program in the foot when it offered a panel for “Kings” at the fall TCA tour in 2008 without having a pilot for them to screen first. If you’ve never seen the series, trust us: it’s kind of hard to explain. The scope of “Kings” was downright epic, often nearing Shakespearean proportions, but as I wrote in April 2009, “the characters had depth, and the actors portraying them – including Ian McShane, Dylan Baker, Christopher Egan, Eamonn Walker, Sebastian Stan and Susanna Thompson – offered performances which lived up to the show’s lofty goals.” If “Kings” had been on FX, it would probably still be on the air, but NBC offered the series little opportunity to build an audience, quickly moving it from Sunday night to…ugh…Saturday. This was, as I wrote at the time, “the equivalent of a doctor saying, ‘I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do,’ and removing life support.” The only credit the network deserves is for releasing the complete series on DVD, and since it was surely only done as a cost-recouping maneuver, they probably don’t even deserve that.
Variety ponders the fate of several “bubble shows”: In the world of sports, if a team is on the bubble, it usually means that there is no guarantee that the team will get a postseason berth. The term can be applied to television as well, as networks decide which shows will be returning in the fall (and which ones won’t).
Most of broadcast’s comedies and dramas are in the midst of plotting their year-end finales. But for producers who still don’t have a clue about the fate of their shows, that creates a conundrum.
Do you tie up loose ends, and shoot a de facto series finale, just in case it’s all over? Or do you leave the viewers wanting more via a big, messy cliffhanger in hopes that execs will find it more difficult to cut things off midstream?
This year, the producers behind ABC’s “Life on Mars” came up with a third option: Persuade the network to announce the show’s fate right now in order to at least go out with a bang.
“The producers were really pushing for it,” said ABC Entertainment exec VP Jeff Bader. “Based on the ratings the way they are now, it didn’t look like it would be back.
So the producers of “Life on Mars” saw the writing on the wall and pushed for a quick decision. Now they can wrap up the show appropriately.
The whole article is worth a read. It discusses how each network is handling certain shows and how some networks are splitting up shows to air in into either the fall or the spring, but not both. The article mentions “Heroes,” which may only get picked up for 18 to 20 episodes. Few shows can truly stay fresh and entertaining for a traditional, 26-episode season. The shorter the season, the less fat/filler there can be. (Usually.)
“Veronica Mars” movie on the way?: Good news, “Veronica Mars” fans — it looks like there may be a movie in the works.
Fans of the CW drama were absolutely crushed when the network didn’t renew the show in 2007, and talk immediately turned to giving the series a proper two-hour Cineplex sendoff. Now, creator Rob Thomas has divulged the first solid details of the project, which is closer than ever to becoming reality.
Speaking to reporters at the TCAs in Los Angeles, Thomas (on hand to promote his new ABC show Cupid) confirmed that he is writing a Veronica Mars movie, according to iFMagazine.com.
Thomas says he has the movie “70 percent” down in his head, and is struggling with one crucial plot point. However, he also feels he is “on the right track now” and will clear that hurdle soon enough.
The movie is not going to take place where Veronica Mars’ would-be fourth season would have (Thomas made a presentation for network execs that proposed jumping forward in time to Veronica in the FBI). Instead, the movie is set to start just days before Veronica graduates from Hearst College.
According to the article, the cast is interested and financing shouldn’t be a problem, so this is looking very good at the moment. This comes on the heels of the news that there is also a “Jericho” movie in the works.
Count this writer amongst the fans of the show that were sorely disappointed when the CW elected not to renew it. In that final season, “Veronica Mars” was every bit as good as it ever was, and it felt like there were plenty more stories to tell. I was intrigued by the possibility of her ending up at the FBI, but I’ll take any of Ms. Mars that I can get at this point.