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June 17 2008

The Franchise-Premise Differentiation. A fascinating examination by Michael Cassut of why he thinks Moonlight, and attempts to revive it, failed. For examples in his analysis, he mentions Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse and Joss Whedon, among other programs, personalities and concepts.

But no mention of Angel??? That's odd...

Oh. Well he DID mention Angel... kind of. He mentioned that David Greenwalt had written it. But no comparisons between it and Moonlight, which seems either willfully ignorant or polite to a fault. But I'm overly sensitive to that so ignore me and I'll go away. ;)

(...not really.)
I'm not sure where the commercial success aspect comes in with his analysis. But as far as quality, compelling television is concerned it seems to me to come in somewhere around where the premise, however offbeat, serves to develop the characters and themes, rather than the reverse. If that makes any sense.
This analysis was just too truncated. The author raised a couple of interesting points, but he really leaves too much out. Haunt is right-- it's not only that they threw out parts of the vampire mythology, but that they essentially plagiarized Angel -- and the author fails to mention this at all.

And we have all talked about Joss's strengths in character development -- and certainly the promise of character development in Dollhouse is what prevents the premise from taking over. But there was little character development in Moonlight, until the end of the series.

And the casting was off. While Alex O'Loughlin began to grow on me as the series went along, he certainly didn't compel me to watch initially. And they had such talent (and a following) in Jason Dohring, and he was totally wasted in this series. What a mistake! And the lead woman was just boring. Period.

So this analysis missed its mark by a considerable amount. The show was derivative, poorly cast, and poorly written. They were beginning to make corrections at the end, and the show might have grown into something in the second season, but they made so many mistakes at the beginning that the show was doomed. The only thing that allowed all the episodes to be shown was, ironically, the writers' strike. There was nothing to replace it.
Yeah Jason Dohring's character was very under-used to say the least. I hope he gets another series soon. Other than him I won't miss the show too much.
These factors alone don't explain the commercial success or failure of a show. Firefly had all the same structural ingredients as Buffy and yet it ended so quickly. Logistical factors like marketing and timeslot have big impacts. Also maybe the younger cast of Buffy made it initially more accessible than Firefly.

Opinions? And what does this say about the likelihood of Dollhouse to survive beyond Season 1?
Until it does. Because there's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (A sort of cop, don't you think?)

No...not really. Most of it took place in high school and high school is a familiar place to most everyone.

I think Firefly failed partially due to bad timing. The US was not in a "root for the underdog" mood when Firefly began. I think where we are culturally affects what sort of shows will succeed.
Were we ever that annoying, when we were trying to save Angel or Firefly, or even when pushing Serenity? I lack the memory to recall it. Just for the record, not talking about the writer, talking about the the bigger picture situation.
Seriously. I wasn't so annoyed last year during that whole Jericho debacle, but all this Moonlight thing been bothering me so much, to the point that my friends are telling me that my loathe to all those saving campaigns is bordering to disrespectful, and that's why I'll refrain from any further comment.
I don't mind the 'Moonlight' lot doing what they did. It'll probably hurt fan campaigns in the long run but to be honest, I suspect 'Jericho' did more in that sphere - is a network exec ever going to trust fan fervour again after the kerfuffle with the nuts followed by very low actual viewing figures ? And though the apparently successful ones enter into fan mythologies, I doubt most campaigns have an appreciable effect anyway - to a first approximation they fail IMO.

The US was not in a "root for the underdog" mood when Firefly began. I think where we are culturally affects what sort of shows will succeed.

That's an interesting idea GrrrlRomeo. So part of the reason it may have failed is because Mal and the gang were basically, well, insurgents ? May be some truth to that (not consciously I wouldn't have thought but there might've been something lurking under the surface). Seems true that certain ideas are "in the air" and touch something culturally transient, something of its time ('The X-Files' might well fall into this category - seems a distant memory now but the 90s had an element of "millennial angst" to them and also marked the point where the cynical, everything's a conspiracy, trust no-one, generation Xers started showing up on ratings data and I doubt any of that hurt the show).

Course, pre-emption etc. aside, it also has to be said that had 'Firefly' aired on The WB it would've been seen as a success (ratings wise - in absolute terms at least - it did better than Buffy). Seems to me like it's also possible that there's just a limited audience for certain kinds of story (or certain ways of telling them).

The article's got some ideas but it's a bit short and, though I had major issues with the show and don't miss it, maybe a bit unfair to 'Moonlight' too. All vampire mythologies take away some vampiric properties (not being able to cross running water or shape-shifting for instance) and 'Moonlight' had an original take on stakes and silver. Agreed, you have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater but dropping/weakening the sunlight thing for convenience doesn't (to me) seem to totally gut the vampire concept (he still drank blood, had super-strength/speed and was immortal).

Don't really agree about 'Journeyman' either. That had the "stories walk in the door" aspect (since he was a journalist) but Dan Vasser could do more than write an exposť since he could go back in time and affect events as much as any cop could (albeit not entirely under his own control). Reckon that was a simple case of people just not taking to it for some reason.
The Dollhouse premise seems to be more mainstream than Buffy, Angel and Firefly. All three shows had fantastical elements that may have appealed to only a select niche of viewers. The Alias premise was less with the vampires and the demons and more of the undercover agent and the lingerie and that may have made it more accessible to more viewers. I've tried to get my friends to watch Firefly, but they just say that they are not into Sci-fi and don't give it a chance. Hopefully, with Dollhouse being possibly more mainstream, Joss will access a whole gamut of new to the Whedonverse newbies, which may hopefully mean more Whedonites and more Jossleyan shows.

Palehorse, I agree with what you said about Moonlight. When I heard about the premise, it was Angel ressurected and when I saw David Greenwalt in the credits, I thought, yay, Angel's back in another form. But after a few episodes, I didn't relate or care for the characters and the lead actress was not, IMO, very good with the acting, so I stopped watching. This is why I love Joss' shows. It's because of the character development. You grow with them and go through pivotal events with them and as Joss has said, Scully after all those episodes, still with all her experiences and smarts couldn't see that there were really aliens. This is not real. Joss' shows are real and there lies the true genius..(basically, what Palehorse said).

[ edited by Jossaholic on 2008-06-17 19:03 ]
It irks me no end that nothing was said about the blatant Angel rip-off factor. I would have cut Moonlight a lot more slack, had it not been for that constant underlying irritation.

Not picking on you GrrlRomeo, but "most of Buffy" didn't take place in High School, the main characters were in High School for the first three of seven seasons. Just a pet peeve of mine, the perception of BtS as a "High School" show.
And I agree with you that Firefly's lack of appeal to so many, may have been in part due to the national mood in the U.S. at the time.
On the other hand, there was a lot of reactionary sentiment to the fact that the country had become so conformist and had no sympathy for the underdog or those not willing to do the lock-step.
So I still believe the main reason for Firefly's untimely demise was the shameful way it was under-promoted, then aired haphazardly (incomplete and out of order), by the network.
As mentioned (almost ad nauseum ;), 'Angel' also wasn't the first vampire detective so I still don't get the plagiarism criticism levelled at 'Moonlight' (most of the similarities seem to be of the kind that just can't be avoided if you're making a romantic/procedural/drama about vampires). I never thought it would be 'Angel' "back in another form" either, nor was it ever presented that way AFAIK. Also don't think it's fair to compare the first half-season of 'Angel' with 'Moonlight' from the perspective of character development or how much we care about the characters since i'd point out that of the 3 main, original 'Angel' cast, we'd already known two of the characters for three years - of course we're going to care about them more.

There're plenty of criticisms that can be levelled at 'Moonlight' IMO (e.g. the extremely hammy and badly done voice-overs, the overwrought dialogue, the sometimes heavy handed exposition, the largely obvious, predictable plots) but most of the ones people actually raise seem to be along the lines of "It's not Angel".
Saje, since I used the "p"-word, I'd just like to say that, to me, the copying was not so much about the vampire detective issue -- although coming so close upon the heels of Angel's cancellation, they might have tried to do something different there. But there were the zooming city shots to get from one scene to another, making the vampire Irish, selecting "Jasmine" for a character's name, having a mysterious woman haunt him from the his past when she has become human although she was the vampire who sired him and he had killed her, having the love interest look so much like Elizabeth Rohm, and so on. (And using Bif Naked's "Lucky," which had been used in Buffy, to add a little insult to injury.) Just the little things.
First of all I'm tired of people saying Moonlight ripped off Angel. Because essentially Angel ripped off Forever Knight. It's not a new concept. Moonlight was as different in tone and style from Angel as was possible while have the same premise. It wasn't Shakespeare but I actually enjoyed Moonlight and the fact that it had hardcore enough fans that they actually went to the trouble of protesting says something about the quality of the show, if you ask me. Which no one did I suppose. :)
Shey: uhmm...Buffy started and ended in high school. The high school was on top of the hellmouth which caused them to have to revisit it even when it was rubble. Buffy wasn't in high school as a student by the end, but Dawn was. Buffy was a counselor there, Spike lived there and Xander helped build it. "High school is hell" was a very prominent theme as was the idea that you never really escape it. And I relate to that.

So part of the reason it may have failed is because Mal and the gang were basically, well, insurgents ?

It was either that or not wanting to see the government as "the big bad"...or both. Not that people associated the Alliance with the US government or the crew with insurgents. I think most people wanted to see shows featuring public servants (FBI, police, firemen, first responders) as heroes more than they wanted to see outlaws as heroes. They wanted to see a government doing right, not one that was corrupt.
Whereas now the government as baddie might work better, seems like 'Firefly' really was ahead of its time ;).

Saje, since I used the "p"-word ...

Ah, I genuinely didn't register that consciously, wasn't singling you out palehorse ;). That said, I thought he was American , does he ever talk about his Irish ancestry or whatever ? I don't think it makes sense to assume he's Irish because he goes by 'Mick' (I know two Micks, both deeply English - for their sins ;) - it's just a less common diminutive of 'Michael') and "St. John" is originally an English surname.

Here's the thing: he's a (AFA We K heterosexual) male vampire. Which means he's going to have women in his past and it's a natural "leap" (teeny step is more like it IMO ;) to have his past come back to haunt him in the form of those women (because narratively, the big "asset" with long-lived characters is their extensive past and in a romantic show, ex-wives/girlfriends to stir thing up and create triangles are also a natural choice). I suspect (but can't, obviously, prove) that Sophia Myles looking like Elizabeth Rohm is pure coincidence. And a quick Google points out BTW that the song 'Lucky' was also used on 'Charmed' so I suspect (but again can't prove) that this is more a case of "convergent evolution" than copying i.e. romantic easy listening was required. Course, it's also possible that the choices were deliberate but homages. And, true, it's also entirely possible they thought "Ready made audience, let's try and snag them".

The city shots are a valid point though, that seemed too similar to be coincidence but tonally (and even in some aspects of its photography, which was by and large less naturalistic than 'Angel's) I reckon 'Moonlight' bore a closer resemblance to "Beauty and the Beast" (from what little I remember of that show) than to 'Angel'.

(and my own preference would also be for something different. I've read some novels featuring a vampire detective - sort of - where vampirism is a viral disease and he's a bit of a bottom feeder in some ways, trying, like PIs since the year dot, to scrabble his way through life without losing too much of his "soul" in the process. That sort of much more hard-boiled take might've been interesting, less the romantic, Byronic sturm und drang and more the tough life as an "untouchable" kind of approach)
I really like the idea of the hard boiled PI viral vampire- what books are these Saje? I'd like to check them out.

I do think the typical tv casting of super pretty actors for vampire protagonists should be reconsidered for
something along those lines (in that vein,heh?) though. It's really hard for me, often, to suspend disbelief sufficiently to accept gorgeous people as repulsive to others, or even unobtrusive. I like to look at pretty people as much as the next person, but there are limits to my credulity.
I honestly think it's a real shame that Moonlight ended. I'll be the first to admit that it started a little on the rough side and the early episodes had that late 80's to early 90's corniness about them but it actually became one hell of a show. The last four episodes that were broadcast after the writers strike were television gold and set up the characters and the series for a potentially brilliant second season. Given the fact that CBS have so little to offer to the science fiction and fantasy viewing audience I think they made a big mistake in not letting the show prove itself with a second run. It's not as if the show was doing so badly, for it's timeslot.

And I have to agree with those that say that the comparison between Angel and Moonlight was unfair. Yes, it was a vampire detective show. End of similarities. Other than that both shows had actors and stuff. Beyond that the two series were miles apart in style and substance. Both excellent in their own way but in no way feeling like they were the same series with a different cast. No more than Supernatural feels like Buffy just because you have main characters that are killing demons in both shows or than Farscape is similar to Battlestar Galactica just because both series have a cast of characters living on a ship in space, on the run from their enemies.

Numfar PTB - "Were we ever that annoying, when we were trying to save Angel or Firefly, or even when pushing Serenity?"

Hate to tell you this but outside of the Whedon fanbase I'd say we were seen as equally annoying when it came to doing what we thought needed to be done. In fact I know many people who actually do love Joss' shows that think the Browncoats were way over the top in trying to get the word out about Serenity. Not saying that I'd agree with that but I think it's only fair to cut the Moonlight fans the same break and not consider their actions annoying. If they want to do whatever they can to try and save a show they love, who are we to tell them otherwise?
... what books are these Saje? I'd like to check them out.

They're by Charlie Huston toast, there're 3 of them (so far) 'Already Dead', 'No Dominion' and 'Half the Blood of Brooklyn'. Fair warning, I found his prose to be a bit ... workmanlike to begin with and only carried on reading because the world and his take on vampires interested me (it gets better though it's fair to say his style is straightforward, without flourishes). Worth reading if you like hard-boiled fiction though IMO.

(here's an - AFAIK legal - excerpt from the first book BTW, see how it grabs ya ;)
I just did a little math, and Buffy herself is a student in high school for only 38% of the show.
The Pagan, I will be the first to loudly proclaim that Browncoats are/have been beyond painfully annoying while protesting and pimping the cancellation and then revival of Firefly/Serenity.

But the bitterness of the typical Moonlight fan seen in comments in articles and blogs pretty much everywhere has about ten times more bile per word than anything I see from Browncoats.

I liked the show (Moonlight) while being perfectly aware of its shortcomings and failures, but it had no brilliance and no spark and certainly isn't worth the energy spent on it just to save the pretty characters. Let the pretty actors get work on something that is actually, you know, good.
TamaraC, I'd disagree with you on the quality and worth of the show but then like any television series it's down to personal taste. For me the spark you mentioned was late in arriving (too late to save the show, it seems) but it was certainly there by the end of it's run.

As for the bitterness, I have to admit that I've seen my fair share of what you are talking about. There are a good number of very angry Moonlight fans out there that don't hold back exactly what they are feeling, that's for sure. That said, I don't see them as a fair representation of the Moonlight fanbase overall.

Obviously one person's opinion of what is a step too far in these situations is going to be different than that of another person. Passion for something, whether it be a television show or whatever else, is always going to cloud judgement. As someone that obviously didn't take to the show as much as others did, you can take that step back and see that maybe some of the views being expressed are excessively angry. I'm sure that exact opinion was directed towards some of the Angel fans that were, as I recall, a little extreme in their views at the time of the Save Angel campaign. I can remember a good few examples of where I was quite ashamed to read what was being directed towards The WB at the time Angel was axed. I didn't consider the people behind those comments to be typical of the Angel fanbase at the time and I honestly don't consider the more extreme Moonlight fans to be typical of that larger fanbase either. As is usual though, it's the loud ones that get noticed the most.
Unfortunately, perception is everything.
True enough. Too many people see what they choose to see and take things at face value rather than stop and consider that there may be more to a given subject than how it is being fed to them by the various forms of media they lap up. A pity but then in this increasingly superficial world we live in, not that surprising and not likely to change anytime soon, I guess.
Thanks saje, I'm going to check them out. That's an idea I wish I'd thought of. It would be fun to write.BTW, the first book in the series is apparently going to be a movie to be released in 2009.

[ edited by toast on 2008-06-17 23:21 ]
When I first heard of Moonlight I, too, kind of hoped for a new Angel but Moonlight is in a different genre. Angel was dark fantasy, Moonlight is what Mills&Boon sell as 'Paranormal Romance'. Moonlight's target audience is more Ghost Whisperer than Angel.

I also suspect they got rid of a lot of the vampire lore partially to make it less similar to Angel, and partially to make it more palatable for the Ghost Whisperer audience. The lack of vampire lore wouldn't put off a lot of viewers -- someone I know keeps complaining, 'why no one makes a vampire show where vampires are like normal people only with different teeth'.

And with the P-word, I don't see why a perfectly good concept shouldn't be re-used, if it can be. Absolutely no plot or concept is new to this world. Most Shakespeare's plots were 'borrowed' from other authors. I've even read some very passionate posts accusing Serenity of being a 'rip-off' of some anime.

[ edited by Effulgent on 2008-06-17 23:23 ]
When people complain about Moonlight being an Angel rip-off, they're not just referring to the premise. The show ripped off specific plotlines, to the point where I'd almost call it plagiarism.
I'm not entirely sure what specific plotlines you mean, electricspacegirl. I don't recall anything that was a direct rip-off of an Angel storyline.

Even if that was the case though, it's the nature of television today. Sam's visions on Supernatural were considered to be a direct rip of Cordy on Angel by certain members of the fanbase. I've never watched the show but I recall reading that Charmed had a plotline that was for all the world like the Connor story. The Stargate shows have been going so long that they have even started ripping off their own previous episodes. Don't even get me started on the way the CSI/Law and Order type series haven't had an original plot in years.

The fact that Angel and Moonlight were very similar in premise obviously meant that there was going to be stories that seemed very similar as well but having watched every episode I don't remember one that jumped out at me as a direct copy of something I saw on Angel.
BTW, the first book in the series is apparently going to be a movie to be released in 2009.

Aha, thanks in return toast, sounds promising (I quite liked 'Beautiful Girls' and 'Con Air' too for that matter. Pretty different films though ;).

(that page is actually slightly wrong BTW, the "zombies" are the result of bacteria, not a virus)
Shey: uhmm...Buffy started and ended in high school. The high school was on top of the hellmouth which caused them to have to revisit it even when it was rubble. Buffy wasn't in high school as a student by the end, but Dawn was. Buffy was a counselor there, Spike lived there and Xander helped build it. "High school is hell" was a very prominent theme as was the idea that you never really escape it. And I relate to that.

Still totally disagreeing. The main characters were out of high school at the end of season three. Season four was specifically about college, Dawn didn't show up until season five and didn't become a high school student until season six.

The role played by the new high school in season 7 was specifically geographic. Being rebuilt on the Hellmouth was a "coming full circle" plot device but the show was in no way about high school students or the high school experience at that time, except for a couple of brief forays into Dawn's experience.

Making Wood the principal and Buffy's job as high school counselor (which lasted maybe half the season) were convenient plot devices. Partly to get everyone back in proximity to the hellmouth and partly to have another location to take the place of The Magic Box, to "open up" the available places for action to take place, beyond Buffy's house.

Spike lived in the basement for a few weeks and Xander helping build the new school was another convenient plot device, he had no connection to the "high school experience" at this point, beyond a construction contract.

The point I'm making is that your original statement about the show, that "most of it took place in high school", doesn't hold up.
I also believe that the "high school is hell" metaphor was just that ... a metaphor, and lasted only through season three, when our main characters graduated. With a very symbolic blowing up of the high school. As in "over, done, growing up and moving on." Which is when I really began to relate, so part of the difference in perception may be due to a difference in age, as I'm quite ancient. ;-)

Oops .... Moonlight, yes.

Saje, since I used the "p"-word, I'd just like to say that, to me, the copying was not so much about the vampire detective issue -- although coming so close upon the heels of Angel's cancellation, they might have tried to do something different there. But there were the zooming city shots to get from one scene to another, making the vampire Irish, selecting "Jasmine" for a character's name, having a mysterious woman haunt him from the his past when she has become human although she was the vampire who sired him and he had killed her, having the love interest look so much like Elizabeth Rohm, and so on. (And using Bif Naked's "Lucky," which had been used in Buffy, to add a little insult to injury.) Just the little things.
palehorse | June 17, 14:03 CET


I agree with everything palehorse says here. These "little things", taken all together, go well beyond the basic "vampire detective" premise that had been used before. There's a fine line between homage and blatant rip-off, and I think Moonlight crossed that line and left it in the dust.
Additions: vampire detective wears a long black coat & has a penchant for standing on the roof's of tall buildings, coat billowing in the wind. Vampire detective broods a lot. ;-)
And I can pretty much guarantee that we "colonials" are going to perceive "Mick St. John" as a distinctly Irish name, even if that isn't the perception (or reality) across the pond.

If any of these points (made by both palehorse and myself) could also be applied to Forever Knight, I don't know about it, since I've never seen the show.
If they can't, I'm sticking to my belief that Moonlight was a blatant Angel rip-off, not just "yet another show featuring a vampire detective".

ETA: Saje, I'm gonna be a pain in the ass and ask you for more specifics on one point: in what episide of Charmed did they use the Biff Naked song "Lucky"?
I watched Charmed regularly for three and a half seasons and can't recall that. And the use of that song (featured so prominently in a BtS ep) in Moonlight, was a particular source of irritation to me. As in "how far are they going to go in the desperate attempt to make a Whedon connection?"

[ edited by Shey on 2008-06-18 12:36 ]
What, you couldn't be a pain in the arse Shey, as, like, a sign of cross-cultural respect ? ;-)

Google tells me it was season 2, episode 16 ('Murphy's Luck') though I have to admit, the times i've watched it have generally been with the sound down - figured if I could enjoy the, err, "visuals" without having the downside of, y'know, everything else then I could count it as a win. I prefer to see this not as "shallow" but as "differently deep" ;).

I've never seen 'Forever Knight' either (though I think I may have seen the TVM it came from, the not great 'Nick Knight') so can't comment on tone, photography, music etc. But he was a vampire that sought to atone for his evil deeds and wanted to become mortal again. He had a vampire lover from his past (though she didn't sire him) and some episodes seem to have featured flash-back inspired plots. He wore a dark coat though, not having seen it, I can't comment on its billowosity. Course, as we've said before, long dark coat, immortal, stands on buildings, flash-back inspired stories, tortured soul - it's Captain Jack Harkness ! ;)

Out of curiosity BTW, what about his name screams Irish to you lot ? Is it more the Mick or more the St. John ? Is 'Mick' uncommon among non Irish descended Americans as a diminutive of Michael ? Is St. John a common Irish surname in the US ?
Thanks Saje, your answer was worthwhile, just to hear you fess up to why you watched Charmed. ;-) Which compels me to mention why I loved those first three and a half seasons.
I hadn't yet discovered Buffy and the whole "three women as the hero's of the piece" thing was so incredibly refreshing to me as a woman (and a Wiccan, but I wont elaborate on that). Then my "differently deep" kicked in when Julian McMahon joined the cast. ;-)

And yes, "Mick" as a diminutive of Michael is very unusual in the U.S., where the dimunitive is almost universally Mike. And while I can't speak for anyone else, "Mick" evokes Irish to me, more than English (U.K.isk?), Sir Jaeger aside. (A casual poll of people I know, when Moonlight first came on, produced unanimous agreement.) But then I live in Hawaii, so cultural stuff is melty-potted to the max.

As for being a pain in your cross-culturally respected ass .... some terms are better left to their country of origin. ;-)

BTW, John Barrowman IMHO, can do anything he likes, anywhere, any time, with or without a coat. How's that for "differently deep"??

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