June 13, 2005
Keeping the Dream Alive:
Is There Any Hope Left for American Dreams?
With Upfront Week now behind us, it is a time to contemplate new shows and old; shows that remained and shows that did not make it. In the latter category, it provokes a sense of duty to save a show from premature death. Arrested Development fans are breathing sighs of relief that their show made the cut, when chances of survival seemed slim-to-none. Joan of Arcadia fans remain in shock — even with a dip in quality and ratings this past season, they most certainly did not see the cancellation coming.
American Dreams, a program set in the 1960s and revolving around the life of a teenager, Meg Pryor (Brittany Snow), and that of her family and friends, has been living from season to season, never sure that they would make it for another. It's a wonder it even lasted up to three seasons. This past season in particular, with ratings steadfastly decreasing from last season, it was known by many that there was little hope. A small campaign formed to save it from the grips of cancellation, with an online petition 20,000 strong, and a mass e-mail campaign aimed at NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. Even NBC Universal Group President Jeff Zucker, a self-proclaimed fan of the show, vowed to do whatever he could to keep it on the air. Unfortunately, many were left disappointed on May 16 when NBC's 2005-2006 lineup was revealed, and American Dreams was nowhere to be found.
|There is a demand for quality family programming, but when one of substance comes along, it is ignored, and dreck like 7th Heaven lives on for a 10th season. (TV Land is truly an unjust place.)|
Before blaming television viewers, however, it is wise to look at the folks at NBC: Did they not give it enough chance to thrive? At the beginning, the show was heavily promoted, anticipating high numbers in viewership. It performed respectably, and heavy promotion continued in its second season, with its stars making various promotional appearances (such as a stint at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, broadcast on NBC) to aid in the effort. However, ratings were down by 13 percent and 19 episodes were aired, 6 fewer than season one. Season three was worse off, with ratings down by 33 percent from its first, and NBC cutting the number of episodes from 19 to 17. Where advertising was concerned, the network spent more time — and money — promoting Fear Factor and Joey instead, as fans have noted. The show did, in fact, have many devoted advertisers (such as Campbell's, Johnson & Johnson and Ford, which even sponsored an hour-long, commercial-free VSE), but their efforts, although greatly appreciated, were not enough to save it. Another big mistake on the network's part was the constant interruptions throughout the course of a season: There always seemed to be long breaks between episodes, especially during the third season, so it was easy to lose track of the show and forget when new episodes would resume. And NBC never seized the opportunity to reel new viewers in via the airing of repeats. Thus the curious were unable to locate the show or catch up with the help of old episodes, which hindered the program's chances of acquiring new fans.
|The network decided to move the show to Wednesday nights for its final four episodes, against ABC ratings powerhouse LOST; the show wasn't even given a chance to at least die with a little dignity.|
The show began a year after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and events that occurred in the '60s paralleled current ones: the John F. Kennedy assassination, like the 9/11 attacks, nearly brought the nation to its knees; the Vietnam War — to which the show was bold enough to send one of its main characters, J.J. (Will Estes) to fight in — mirrored the current war in Iraq; and even an episode where Jack (Tom Verica) struggled over whether to pull the plug on his comatose brother coincidentally aired at the same time the Terri Schiavo case reached its peak. American Dreams never tried to be overly-political or rub a certain viewpoint into the viewers' faces; it was rather gentle in the way it presented issues, allowing viewers to look at both sides of the coin: such as WWII veteran Jack admonishing daughter Meg for her anti-war sentiments, even though both opinions were for the safety of a son and brother; stay-at-home mother and wife, Helen (Gail O'Grady, who was robbed of many Emmy nominations for her work on the show), wanting to go back to school and work, whereas traditionalist Jack struggles with his own views on women in the home. For one looking into the '60s today, it is easy to dislike Jack; but, rather, one understands that he is not a bad guy, but a product of the times and of a Roman Catholic upbringing.
So, what lies in store for American Dreams? Its fandom is rather quiet now, devotees left despondent and have sadly accepted its fate. Prince, who has been active in the fans' campaign to save the show, says that he hopes NBC will allow the airing of the aforementioned alternative ending, a 10-minute epilogue he hoped would never air. (Spoiler Alert: It is rumored that it will show Meg returning years later — the finale had her run off with boyfriend Chris, played by Milo Ventimiglia, who was avoiding the draft — on the day of the moon landing in 1969.) Only time will tell whether it will ever see the light of day.
For now, maybe online petitioning can continue, and fans' outcries of rage can save it, like it did for Party of Five. There are hopes that maybe another network can buy the rights to the show. Maybe the final two seasons will be released on DVD, leading to incredible numbers in sales, which could bring it back to network television in a few years, a la Family Guy. Or not. Wishful thinking, it would seem; sadly, it looks as if the Dream is gone for good.
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