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January 08 2007

Fox Television: The Two-Hit Wonder, Maybe Three. Firefly and Whedonesque get mentions in this all too true SyFriday article by Michael Hinman.

Go on. Admit it. You nodded your head.

Amen, brother!
I nodded. And smiled.
And yet... thank the Gods they didn't do the BSG continuity show. Really, the further FOX stays away from SF the better. Those ideas would be better nurtured anywhere else.

So, yes, they made some giant cock-ups in the past. See: "Firefly"... but now I have no faith in them. So I don't really care if they've got three hit shows or none.

And I don't watch FOX shows until I hear they've been picked up for a season. Unless they're made by Tim Minear.
Well, Bones is still on the air... on FOX, well into its second season.... It's a must-see in our household.
I actually didn't nod my head. There is no way in *HELL* I would have wanted Battlestar Galactica anywhere near FOX. Why? Well, we probably wouldn't have got past the mini-series, for starters.

Can anybody name a major sci-fi series on a major network which has done well recently? Heroes. I can name that.

The reality is, I don't think FOX should even try sci-fi shows. Leave it to networks and studios who actually want, like and value them.

FOX is all about quick fire, big cultural hits. That does not often equal sci-fi. Whilst many people can lay blame on Firefly's ratings failure on FOX -- and people there were to blame in a large part -- it was also a shockingly bad match between show and network. If anybody learns anything from the experience, in my mind, it's that sci-fi programming doesn't fit in FOX's corporate mindset.
I tend to be like that with pretty much all the US shows that I think may interest me, crossoverman, regardless of network. Thankfully, being from the UK, it's usually the case that by the time a show gets aired here you have a pretty good idea whether it's going to be axed in it's first season or not, at least if you have internet access anyway.

Back in the days when I couldn't get that sort of information I was constantly getting burned by getting into stories and characters that would be ripped away from me with no warning and no conclusion. Earth 2, Space: Above and Beyond, Brimstone and too many others to mention were all long cancelled before I had even become aware that they existed. These days I try to avoid being let down and only watch new series that I'm certain will be around for a while.

Sad that this season so far that only gives me Heroes (and possibly Jericho) to look forward to.
Actually, gossi, the head nodding was pretty much just in relation to the Firefly comments. I'd be with you in shaking my head as hard as I possibly could concerning Fox getting their axe-ready hands on Battlestar Galactica, trust me.
If nobody watches a show on the premise that they 'expect it to be cancelled', then surely it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?


Here in the UK we usually get six-episode series and if another one comes after it we count ourselves lucky (or unlucky, if it's shit). Shows are never abandoned on cliffhangers. We're starting to shift towards the American model, though, which is a worrying trend (it stifles imagination and tends to lead to concepts being diluted, over here - we have a hospital show over here that over the past decade had its episode order increased from something like ten a year to 40 or so per year in addition to a spin-off with a similar quantity of episodes, which is now getting its own spin-off as well!). We now have a constant influx of daily soaps, chat shows and reality shows, with occasional glimmers of hope wherever the scheduler can fit them. Hmm, I've a horrible feeling that British television has completely gone to pot.
I tend to be like that with pretty much all the US shows that I think may interest me, crossoverman, regardless of network.

Well, I'm in Australia so I have similar experience to you... until I started downloading shows. And while all networks have made poor judgements in the past, FOX has done it consistently throughout its life. For years in the 90s the only two things that were guaranteed to stay on FOX were The Simpsons and The X-Files... beyond the point where they were enjoyable.

I watch "House" and I watch "Prison Break" - but didn't watch PB until I knew it got a full season. There were a couple of new shows on FOX this season that sounded interesting, but none of them lasted... so I'm glad I didn't start.

Incredibly, they keep commissioning shows with intriguing premises - but never let them get beyond 13 episodes. If they even get that far.

Thanks for bringing up Space Above & Beyond and Earth 2... I don't think those wounds have healed yet. But even they had full first seasons. They probably wouldn't get past the pilot stage now - except SAAB might look like a BSG rip-off now.
Let's not forget The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. One of the few "genre" shows that I could convince my dad to watch--along with other Fox shows, like Alien Nation and X-Files.

I wonder if Firefly would have lasted longer on Sci-Fi or some other cable outlet?...
FOX has made me want to explore with anger on more than one occasion. Of course, Firefly. But I also loved Tru Calling as well as (please don't flame me) The OC whose eminent cancellation was announced earlier this week. Keep in mind that I'm an 18 year old girl (who proudly watches the CW for VM and GG), I was devestated to hear that news because I feel the writing has been really decent this season compared to the years before. And I'm even more upset that "Drive" is going to be on this awful network. I really hope Tim can work some gore and boobs into the pilot, because if not, FOX will yank the emergency brake before we can yell "wait!"

fausty, I wonder if Firefly would have lasted longer if the episodes were shown in order...but that's just me :/
Actually, gossi, the head nodding was pretty much just in relation to the Firefly comments.

Yep.
And don't get me started on "Firefly." Please don't get me started on "Firefly." There is so much I can say about that fiasco, and both Joss Whedon and everyone at Whedonesque would simply nod their heads, having heard it time and time again. But damn, Fox ... what a stupid mistake.

Nodding like a little geisha doll with a big head that wobbles.
I read his column, too. I sent him a message and added him to my MySpace network. His comment that Fox would be like the CW without its standby shows, two of which will be coming back later this month, is so true.
Fox just makes me angry. Period. The End. No not the end! They shouldn't get off that easy! Urgh!
First off I want it made clear how incredibly pissed off I've been with FOX's handling of its programming, especially with regards to genre shows.

Firefly, Werewolf, Brimstone, Kindred, Profit, etc.

That being said, I wish people would stop blaming FOX for Arrested Development going off the air. Despite excellent writing, a top notch cast, multiple award nominations and wins, and good promotion, nobody was watching it. FOX gave it more than a chance - it was on for 3 seasons (53 episodes), they kept it on the air despite dismal ratings, but ultimately they had to cut their losses.

Is it a shame that Arrested Development got cancelled? Yes. Is it FOX's fault? No - bottom line, no matter how much the fans loved it, once again, nobody else was watching it.
His comment that Fox would be like the CW without its standby shows, two of which will be coming back later this month, is so true.

Actually, I don't think that's quite accurate or fair. The CW hasn't existed for that long. If we were to look at its component parts, the comparison might work best between Fox/UPN. But certainly not between Fox/The WB.

Okay, Fox's hits have been huge compared to The WB. But at least The WB was a lot more loyal - even if they lost Buffy and cancelled Angel. You think Fox would have given us either of those shows (for very long)?

I'd much rather a small network that allows cult shows to find and keep an audience. FOX is a wanna-be big boy, desperate for numbers that the three big networks get, unwilling to try being as faithful and rewarding to the viewership it does have.
Also Arrested Development had the opportunity to continue on, but the creator didn't want to continue to do the show.

You have to give Fox credit for greenlighting some of these shows. I can't imagine any of the other networks showing Arrested Development or maybe even Firefly.
Two of my favourite shows are on the CW, and they haven't cancelled them yet, so thus far I'm very much pro-CW.
On the other hand, here's a beloved quote by David Cross, who rants about FOX's marketing department while behind the scenes in Arrested Development (the quote is from a behind the scenes featurette in the Season 2 DVD of the show, and has been BSG-ized because I'm not sure what the policy on f-words is):

I got an idea for what you can do. Why don't you frakking fire your complete marketing team and get a new one who knows how to market a show that won five motherfrakking Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, WGA Awards, DGA Awards, Producer's Guild Awards, Critic's Top Ten List... You know, if you can't frakking-- if you can't market that kind of show and get better ratings then maybe the problem doesn't lie here... Maybe it lies with marketing.
Goodnight.

None of the major networks are reliable at all- I stick with "House", "Heroes", and "Numb3rs" and count myself lucky that they're still on the air. Everything else I watch is either from the Sci-fi channel(at least they finish seasons) and aired on SPACE(who I really wish had the $$$ to start a series of their own), Doctor Who on CBC/Corner Gas on CTV, or shows on DVD/re-runs.

Though I look forward to catching "Drive". :D

Great article, yes, Fox really is the worst of the lot, though by no means the only guilty party. And if they'd had BSG, we would never have gotten the brilliant show we have now. There's one mistake I shall always thank Fox for making. ;)
Wow, I wonder why FOX and David Cross didn't get on?

Just because a show is award winning, doesn't mean I'll actually watch it. I know I never bothered with Arrested Development. I tried, but just didn't get it.

Incredibly, they keep commissioning shows with intriguing premises - but never let them get beyond 13 episodes. If they even get that far.

It's not that incredible - it's quite standard, in fact. A vast majority of shows never make it past pilot, and of those that do, on average it's something like 1 in 4 which make it past the initial 13 episode order, and that's across all networks.

Granted, FOX is very much more less gun gun shy than other networks when it comes to cancelling shows. The reality is, they cancel shows which few people watch, because they are desperate for hits. A lot of thing comes from corporate environments with shareholders or bastard corporate heads.

However, they do also green light - like - a LOT of shows. And some of them are shows which are pretty wacky. Wonderfalls, Firefly and Drive are all non-standard shows which are gambles.

I come from the UK, so like daylight says above is true for me - I count myself lucky if a show goes above 6 episodes.
The thing that's so maddening is, shows are no longer given a chance to build an audience. If they're not an instant hit, they get the axe. Kindred and Profit were cancelled after only 5 or 6 episodes had aired.

If FOX had allowed Firefly to continue, I have no doubt it would have found its audience, and we might be in the middle of season 5 right now :(
Or 'Kitchen Confidential', didn't that only run for 3-4 eps before news of cancellation started to circulate ? How anyone can tell whether it's going to be successful after so few episodes is beyond me.

Yep, it's true we're used to shorter 'seasons' in the UK (or series as we call 'em) with even the longest series only lasting 10 or 13 episodes ('Spooks' and 'Doctor Who', both of which are that length at least partly to make international sales easier I reckon) but as someone else says, we're really not used to shows being cancelled with unresolved storylines. It's extremely rare for the Beeb (as an example) to pull a show before finishing its run just because, in general, UK series are made in their entirety before being shown (another advantage of shorter seasons) so there's very little to be gained by pulling them.

('The Innocence Project' seems to be a recent example, pulled after 5 episodes in an 8 ep run due to dismal ratings and reviews, though apparently the remaining programmes will be shown, presumably out of prime-time)
Firefly, Werewolf, Brimstone, Kindred, Profit, etc.

Somebody else watched Werewolf!!! I knew I wasn't the only one! Werewolf was my first taste of Fox cancellation. I was oh-so let down when that show was cancelled. It was one of the first shows ever to completely fascinate me. This argument makes me want to buy Brimstone and Profit. They must be excellent.

As a sidenote, folks at Fox found it interesting that they recieved hundreds of emails regarding requests for Werewolf to be released on DVD. Then they realized almost all the emails were from one guy. It wasn't me. Was it you, Zeppo? :)
Maybe, just maybe the FOX 'method' of greenlighting plenty of shows and then quickly kill off those that for some reason doesnt draw the required audience numbers, would be more palatable if they where upfront with it and made sure that the viewers understood that what they are showing is a limited trial run to check the viability of a show.

By now I believe most of us viewers understand the basic principle, To few viewers = Cancelled show, what we IMO dislike more than anything is to get into a show expecting a good story and then have the rug pulled out from under us with a cancellation, usually with a resolution that either is a pure cliffhanger or otherwise makes little sense.

I'm guessing it would go against the grain of the Hollywood production system but wouldn't it make sense to order selfcontained 6 episodes runs ( or 13 episodes )with options to order more if the audience shows up, advertise them as such and commit to show them in full, giving the writers/creators a chance to tell a complete story in a shorter format.( I believe the CW did something similar with VM this year ?)

The way they now seems to be going with cancelled shows, showing remaining episodes on the web might seem like a reasonable compromise but have some major drawbacks, leaving the tv only part of the audience hanging (smaller and smaller with time) and still pushing the the writers towards writing the 22 episodes stories that only will be produced if the first 2-4 episodes grabs the intended audience.
"The reality is, they cancel shows which few people watch, because they are desperate for hits."

Obviously, there is no disputing this as fact. Fox has long been known for axing shows within a few episodes if the numbers aren't there. By this point though, is nobody at the network starting to realise that their axe-quick and replace attitude is getting them nowhere?

As I understand it, the X-Files started off with terrible ratings but grew into one of the biggest successes that Fox has ever known. 24 came close to being axed in it's first season but, no doubt thanks to it's star, they stuck with it and it paid off, creating another hit series. Allowing a show time to gain an audience would therefore seem to be the way to create a hit, no? Yet for the last five or six seasons they have only stuck with the idea that of a show isn't a hit by episode two then you get rid of it, leading to people not even bothering to watch in the first place to avoid losing yet another series they were enjoying.

I'm far from being a television expert but it seems to me that if the people at Fox cannot see the mistake they are making simply by looking at their past successes then they really deserve to be struggling.
As much anger as I have for Fox, at least it gave those shows a chance in the first place, which you can't say about the big three. (Better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.)
I'm not so sure about that, OneTeV. I mean, is it not actually better to say no to something in the first place than to allow the cast and crew to put their hearts and souls into a new project and allow viewers to start to really love a show only to pull it before it had any real chance of success?

Besides that, who is to say that ABC or NBC were even offered shows like Brimstone and Tru Calling in the first place in order for them to reject them? I don't know if Firefly was ever offered to other networks either (although in that case maybe somebody here or even Joss himself could possibly let us know) but I certainly haven't heard that this was the case.

I don't know. I just don't feel that it is necessary to thank Fox for throwing out scraps of shows when the "chance" it gives them is really no chance at all.
Ah, I liked Werewolf and wish I could lay hands on it. Brimstone was great, too. What I find interesting (in the Chinese curse fashion) is not that FOX cancels these shows ... it's that FOX cancels these shows, then turns around and will try yet another genre show, only to cancel it, in a never ending cycle of development, hope, and disappointment. "Well, that one didn't work. Hey, let's do another genre show! And cancel it, too!" I'm nonplussed.
Well, when you look at House - that started a few years ago, as a mid season I think, with not great ratings. They moved it around, put it in the American Idol slot, promoted it again, and the ratings went up. And up. And up. It's now pretty solid.

Same goes for Prison Break.

I think they also tried the American Idol thing with Kitchen Confidenial. That didn't work.

FOX, as much as I'd love to hate them forever, usually do try to manage shows, and sometimes they get it right. Quite often, not so much. Some of the shows are also a bit - you know - crap. Fastlane, anybody?

Personally, I still think the argument that FOX should support more genre programming is flawed, in that FOX's mindset is about broad appeal and instant hits, and that's not something I could have *ever* seen Firefly having I'm afraid, nor Battlestar.

Really, what I'd love to see is Sci-Fi to stop being such a niece network. I'd love Universal to put some real money behind it, stop making crap movie of the weeks and make it more visible.
Fastlane. Now there is an example of Fox actually making the right choice at the right time. Terrible series.

The other examples you offered, gossi, seem to me to highlight the duality of logic that Fox seems to use when making it's decisions. Their hits come from shows that started with poor to average ratings but were given the time needed for word of mouth to spread and for people to realise how good they were. Yet, for ninety percent of the shows they greenlight, they don't use the same logic of giving them enough time to find an audience.

The way I see it, if you are correct in that the network just doesn't see genre programming as being popular enough then they should simply stop giving the go ahead for anything that they aren't willing to give a proper chance. It's pointless for all involved.
I actually didn't nod my head. There is no way in *HELL* I would have wanted Battlestar Galactica anywhere near FOX. Why? Well, we probably wouldn't have got past the mini-series, for starters.


Amen, gossi.
Plus, there's no way some of the content that we see on Sci-Fi would have made it past the censors. BSG would have been homoginized.
Hell, I still cringe at the thought of 24 being on Fox.
Me? I wish it was on at 10pm on FX. Then they could have more realistic language.
Am I the only one who thinks it would be absolutely peaches to hear Jack Bauer, for once, say "WTF!?" when something goes upside down as things usually donumerous times during his 24 hour hell-a-thon?
But I digress.
It still amazes me how Fox went from the little rebellious netowrk with the edgy programming, to what it is today: almost comically infamous for killing good shows.
I could die happy (ish) if the last season of '24' ended with Jack saying to Tony "Jesus, what a fucking day ! Come on, let's get shit-faced".

The way I see it, if you are correct in that the network just doesn't see genre programming as being popular enough then they should simply stop giving the go ahead for anything that they aren't willing to give a proper chance. It's pointless for all involved.


Tim Minear has picked up a multi million dollar amount for doing Firefly, Wonderfalls, The Inside and Drive. Writers and producers like Jane Espensen, actors like Nathan, Adam, Jewel and many others, along with old Angel shooting crew, the person who scored Angel and others have been kept in regular employment with it.

So it's not entirely pointless.

Saje - 24: The Motion Picture shoots soon. I like to think the reason they're making the movie is so they can have THAT line.

ETA: My idea would be -- say with Drive. They were uhming and arring about it, and then decided to cancel it a few months ago. I think, at that time, they should have aired it as a special event. If the ratings were good, go back to production. If they sucked, not so much.

Now, producers probably hate that idea. And FOX have gone ahead now anyway. But I still think it'd be a nice way to see if a concept works or not, and if they already spend the money producing these pilots.. Hell, just put them online, even if they don't like them, and see what happens.

[ edited by gossi on 2007-01-08 18:37 ]
Sure, Fastlane got cancelled... but it got a whole season and as a MAJOR insult, it got Firefly's slot. They coulda at least let FF finish out the season. They even had ordered 2 more episodes (and I believe those never got made?)
A FOX exec told Joss or Tim -- I can't remember which -- that Fastlane was FOX's model show, on discussing the problems with Firefly. Then Fastlane went on to do the heavily promoted LESBIAN KISS!!!11!one! episode. And took Firefly's slot.

That is an example of network staff acting shamefully, and not understanding their audience. Fastlane got cancelled soon afterwards.
"I could die happy (ish) if the last season of '24' ended with Jack saying to Tony "Jesus, what a fucking day ! Come on, let's get shit-faced"."

I think the events of season five might throw a small spanner into the works of your potential future happiness, Saje. I don't think Jack will be saying that, or anything else for that matter, to Tony anytime soon. ;)

I do agree that 24 would benefit from a little more realistic use of language, given the characters involved. Hopefully the movie will be able to address that without making it too obvious.
Much as it would be for all the wrong reasons, maybe they shoulda promoted Firefly's lesbian scene. ;-) I'm only semi-joking here - it woulda boosted ratings. (And who knows, maybe a few of those viewers would be caught by Joss's witty writing and stuck around)
April, no it wasn't me...but it might have been a friend of mine who was absolutely obsessed with Werewolf. Somewhere he still has all the episodes on tape.
The show remains something of a cult series. This is partially related to the fact that the series received significantly better ratings during its second run on the Sci Fi Channel, as compared to the mediocre ratings in its initial run on the Fox Network. Criticism has been voiced by the producers, citing the lack of marketing, frequent slot changes, and constant pre-emption for sporting events as responsible for its poor ratings while running on the Fox Network.
Sounds very familiar, doesn't it?

If you said "Oh, this must be about 'Firefly'," you would be wrong.

This is a portion of a Wikipedia article describing another show entirely, which is also available on DVD and worth watching again.
Tim Minear has picked up a multi million dollar amount for doing Firefly, Wonderfalls, The Inside and Drive. Writers and producers like Jane Espensen, actors like Nathan, Adam, Jewel and many others, along with old Angel shooting crew, the person who scored Angel and others have been kept in regular employment with it.

Wow. I'm going to take a deep breath here and defend FOX. Pre-cable explosion days, FOX consistently greenlighted the most cutting edge shows on the tube, shows the other networks wouldn't touch. I'm not even joking, but I haven't followed a show on another major network besides FOX in literally *years*. Well, except for some currently running NBC comedies. The fact is that FOX's more daring programming strategy just means that when they cancel shows -- as ALL networks do; the overwhelming majority of new shows get cancelled each year -- they're inevitably cancelling shows with passionate followings that didn't catch on with a wider audience (which is also why I think the best thing to happen to TV in the last decade is niche cable channels). Nobody weeps when CBS cancels the fifteenth mediocre sitcom in its schedule; nobody even cares. In a weird way, the fact that we all use "Damn you, FOX" as a slogan means that they're strategy is working.
So, I'm NOT the only one who was upset, way back when, when Alien Nation was cancelled immediately following a cliffhanger!
I'm also gonna jump on the Fox defense train...

Besides Buffy and Angel almost every DVD boxset on my shelf is a Fox show. And at least half of those are shows that very much made it past the first season.

There's a defense in there somewhere.
Fox can kill a show without canceling it. If you remember the show Sliders. It started out pretty good for the first two seasons but Fox took the episodes out of order (does thet remind us of something) and than dictated to the creator what kind of episodes he has to put in. So for exsample after the movie Anaconda was released they had to make an episode with snakes. The creater gradually steped down and the show turned to shit.
Umm... Jackal Buffy and Angel were not aired on Fox. You're confusing 20th century with the tv network. They're related, but they are separate entities. The article in question is about the network, specifically it's knack for cancelling good shows before they find an audience.

If Buffy had been on Fox it would have never made it to a second season. How sad would that have been?
I said "besides Buffy and Angel."
Oh, I misinterpreted it as meaning including Buffy and Angel.

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