Drama Cancellations and the LOST Effect

As renewals come and fall schedules are unveiled, so also comes news of the shows that got the axe. There are those shows we always knew would get renewed, those shows that define television standards (and then there’s Two and a Half Men, but whatever), there are always some surprises (looking at you, Grimm), and then there are the cancelations. In 2011-12, we saw the too-soon end of a lot of shows I loved, mainly due to viewership.

The shows I’m talking about? Alcatraz, The River, Awake, Missing, Terra Nova–all freshman shows of this season that were practically dead before they began. Past shows that have fallen prey to this include FlashForward and The Event, both heralded as LOST fillers. I’ve been wondering for months if I would get to write this post, and unfortunately, I have plenty of evidence to back me up here.

Since Lost provided an unexpected cult-to-mainstream (or mainstream-to-cult, depending on how you favor the seasons) hit for ABC, both they and other networks have tried to emulate its success. As Lost is my favorite show of all time, I’m always looking for another good sci-fi show to add to my arsenal. However, Lost’s major marketing strategy was that they didn’t have to advertise much because we knew to expect the unexpected–no one knew what would happen next, but as it was a character-centric show with a solid mythology mystery, we all tuned in each week. If you were into LOST, it was all you could talk about each week–talk about a killer break between seasons each year. After a few seasons of strong advertising, ABC just didn’t have to advertise the show as much because it was basically guaranteed that we would all watch. Even in the beginning, it was unlike anything else we’d seen previously and that drew us in–but after LOST, the face of mainstream sci-fi for television has changed.

However, each and every one of these newly canceled shows was forced to follow that same marketing method and, well, I think we can all agree that it didn’t work. LOST had a strong concept, it’s true, but it was about the characters. Every single show that was canceled this year was sold on concept, not characters, and that much was painfully obvious each week. Concept alone does not make a successful show, and when these would-be giants came tumbling down from their high opening numbers and ratings, I can’t say I was surprised.

Just because something is said, or implied, to be “The Next LOST” doesn’t mean that it is. Slapping a high concept on a show won’t make it a hit. The most successful shows are about characters and relationships, not concept and mystery, and at the end of the season, no amount of promotion is going to be a quick fix for that.

Though Fringe has managed to scrape by for four years on little to no promotion, it was recently announced that it was renewed for a last season of 13 episodes, despite being one of the best shows on television right now. Like LOST, its success depends on the willingness of the viewer to keep up with a challenging plot, but it has received almost no promotion or mainstream critical acclaim. Though I’m glad they received an end date rather than an abrupt cancellation, the end of this show is going to be the end of one of the best sci-fi shows on network television. And most people have never even heard of it.

Nielsen rating system issues slightly aside, these shows that were just canceled were barely promoted and, as a result, no one watched them. I’m not going to say that these shows were flawless, but if they had been promoted accurately, I think we’d have seen most of them renewed for a second season. Grimm and Once Upon a Time, two of the biggest supernaturally-tinged freshman shows this year, were both promoted like they were the only shows on the NBC and ABC and, as a result, won huge viewership and, no surprises here, a full second season. Though I do like both of those shows, I think they’re both weaker than the potential I saw in Alcatraz, Awake, and The River in almost every way; in fact, Grimm may have been the weakest drama of the 2012 season.

So can we stop trying to imitate LOST and put forth some new ideas and marketing schemes? It diminishes the importance of LOST to try to tack anything tinged with sci-fi onto it, and it almost certainly sets that new show up for failure. I think there’s a real space for a really good sci-fi show next season, and I’m so disappointed that Fox decided to cancel Alcatraz (talk about the worst series ending of all time, am I right?). My proposal: Let’s get a good show on the air and market it properly, and see if we can’t pull a few more people over to the sci-fi side.

Coming up this fall we have Revolution, the new J.J. Abrams show about the electricity in the world ceasing to work (see full length trailer below), and I really hope this show gets the viewership it deserves. Let’s make it happen, okay?

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About Bailey

I'm a writer and a feminist. I read a lot of books and I watch a lot of television.

One Response to “Drama Cancellations and the LOST Effect”

  1. Definitely agree that Fringe is under-appreciated. I’ve always considered it my LOST replacement, even though it’s not quite at the same level (but what is, really?). John Noble has been perpetually snubbed for the Emmy.

    Revolution seems really interesting and like it has the potential to go far. Billy Burke looks pretty hardcore.

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