'Masters' Tanks, ABC Vindicated
August 6, 2007 11:18 AM
Is a network disappointed or relieved when a show they don’t like performs poorly?
The new anthology ABC series “Masters of Science Fiction” was reportedly reduced from six episodes to four, then scheduled to premiere in the airless timeslot of
Saturdays at 10 p.m. in the dead of summer. When ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson was asked about the moves, he described the series as “uneven” and “a little bit problematic.”
This set the stage for critics to do something they heartily enjoy: Rebel against a network by praising one of its orphaned shows. That the “Masters” source material is written by sci-fi legends like Harlan Ellison and Robert Heinlein, while ABC has stockpiled its summer with reality repeats, only made the critic contingent extra feisty.
The New York Daily News called the show ABC’s “best new series in more than a year … ambitious, artistic, refreshingly intelligent.” Some other reviews were similarly enthusiastic, comparing “Masters” to the original “Twilight Zone.”
The Los Angeles Times, however, heartily agreed with McPherson’s assessment, though “uneven” is an interesting criticism of an anthology series. Rod Serling supposedly once self-described his work on “Zone” as “one-third crap, one-third watchable and one-third pretty damn good” – about as uneven as it gets.
On Saturday, “Masters” debuted to a 0.8 rating among adults 18 to 49, down 43 percent from last week’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos” repeat.
Two ways to look at this: ABC buried a quality show and ensured its doom. Or ABC recognized “Masters” had very niche appeal, was unlikely to interest its viewers, and scheduled the program appropriately.
For the rest of the weekend: Fox won Saturday (with its reality crime block) and Sunday (with a marathon of “Family Guy” repeats). CBS’s “Big Brother” had its best Sunday performance this season (2.7).
UPDATE: An ABC insider contested some of the details swirling in media reports regarding the network's purchase of "Masters of Science Fiction." The show was always intended to air Saturday night (though not necessarily in summer) as part of the network's strategy to develop lower-cost Saturday night programming, the source says. The episode order was not cut back—six episodes were produced—but ABC opted to only license four. "We're airing it exactly how we intended to," the insider says. The source adds that the remaining episodes are still scheduled, though cancellation of the final three is possible given Saturday's performance.