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Four Big TV Gambles That Failed to Pay Off This Season

May 17, 2012  •  Post A Comment

The TV season that is currently winding down saw more than its share of risky moves, and in many cases, those risks failed to pay off, TheWrap reports. That means networks may be in the mood to play it safe for the near future.

Among the high-profile experiments that blew up, Fox’s pricey time travel piece “Terra Nova” and NBC’s racy 1960s effort “The Playboy Club” stand out.

Fox’s “Alcatraz” and NBC’s “Awake” were also among the season’s more spectacular failures, the story notes.

At the other end of the spectrum, the biggest hits tended to be safe fare such as singing competitions and sitcoms, while fantasies such as ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” and NBC’s “Grimm” also proved to have staying power.

The report notes: “The networks’ most successful gambles this season were with existing shows, not new ones. CBS successfully revamped ‘Two and a Half Men’ with Ashton Kutcher in place of Charlie Sheen. NBC ran ‘The Voice’ in midseason against a CBS Monday night lineup, anchored by ‘Men,’ that had looked bulletproof in the fall. ‘The Voice’ ended up briefly surpassing Fox’s ‘American Idol’ as the top-rated non-NFL programming on television, though ‘Idol’ eventually retook the lead. NBC also used a strong lead-in from ‘The Voice’ to successfully launch the ambitious musical drama ‘Smash,’ which scored decent ratings.”

The story notes that risk taking has paid off for the networks in the past, with “Seinfeld,” “Modern Family” and “Lost” among the examples. But the piece adds: “This was a season that seemed to depressingly reinforce stereotypes about the TV landscape: Networks remain the main home for mass-market reality shows, broad comedies and procedurals, while cable is the domain of novelistic period shows like ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and hit genre series like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Walking Dead.’"

Whether it has to do with playing it safe or not, the story notes that TV viewing was down in the fourth quarter of 2011, the period when the current season launched, after years of consistent growth.

What went wrong with the seasons four biggest flops? Some quotes from TheWrap:

“Terra Nova”: “It had a dozen executive producers, to go along with a massive budget, and tried to hedge by offering something for everyone. There was sci-fi. Family drama. Teenage romance. Action. A dystopian future. But in trying to please everyone — you know how this one goes, right? — it ended up pleasing very few.”

“The Playboy Club”: “Like ‘Terra Nova,’ didn’t seem to have a soul. Like ‘Terra Nova,’ it was all over the place with subplots, none of them very original. You’ll keep watching a good-looking but dumb show, the way you’ll keep dating a dim bulb because of their physical attributes. But if they don’t have a soul, you can’t keep time with a person or a show.”

“Alcatraz”: "’Alcatraz’ had one big central mystery — how did the former prisoners disappear in 1963, and why do they keep reappearing in modern times? ‘Alcatraz’ hedged its bets, doling out clues as it kept viewers occupied from episode to episode with an escaped criminal of the week. The half-and-half approach didn’t engage enough of them.”

“Awake”: “It’s complicated. And attention spans are short. We really don’t know what ‘Awake’ could have done differently. Its setup either fascinated or repelled viewers, and seems mostly to have repelled them. We’d like to wake up in a world where a show as strange as ‘Awake’ could survive on a major network.”

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