February 13, 2006
Dudes in suits, ratings games, scheduling dances — all of the real drama happens...
Behind the Screens
Reunion: Anatomy of a Cancellation
What went wrong with Fox's year-leaping drama, and what does its demise mean for the future of high-concept television?
Fox tried to ignite viewer interest in Reunion by running promos early in the summer that clearly emphasized the show's central conceit — that each episode would present the pivotal events of an entire year in the lives of a sextet of friends, beginning in 1986. By the time the show got up to 2006, the viewer would have seen everything necessary to dissect the mystery surrounding the murder of one of the six. The high-concept drama sounded appealing and the buzz was promising, especially with Desperate Housewives seemingly ushering in a soap opera renaissance. But it wasn't long before Reunion hit a brick wall. The show had the advantage of premiering prior to the fall season's official start date, giving it a jump on the competition. But even airing against reruns (and despite a compatible O.C. lead-in), the show barely achieved lift-off, debuting with just 6.6 million viewers. It didn't help matters that a last-minute presidential speech preempted the show's second episode, breaking any momentum that may have built and forcing the nascent show to face off against its tough Thursday competition (CSI and The Apprentice) with little traction. Just when things couldn't get any worse, the show was put on hold to make way for baseball's postseason, a hiatus that sealed its fate. Fox stopped promoting the show, viewers continued to ignore it, and by the end of November sweeps, Reunion, now averaging less than four million viewers, was cancelled.
|If viewers didn't care enough when there was the promise of finding out whodunit, why would anyone want to tune in to a show that would forever remain open-ended?|
Here again, Fox is partly to blame, as the network should have mandated that Feldman orchestrate this two-tier plan, just in case the show failed to connect with viewers. Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori was asked about Reunion's demise at last month's Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, telling reporters that the way Feldman "was laying out the show to gap those additional 14, 15, 16 years was an incredibly complex path. There were a number of options, and he didn't make a definitive decision on which option he was going to go with as to who the killer was, and there was just no way to accelerate that time." This sounds like insincere lip service from an executive who, disappointed by the show's performance, simply stopped caring. (For anybody who does still care, Liguori said it was likely that the killer would have been the daughter of murder victim Samantha.)
Already in development for next season are several shows that follow a single-story format. Fox has Vanished, a drama from executive producer Mimi Leder (ER, John Doe) that revolves around the search for a senator's missing wife, told from the perspectives of law enforcement, family members, and the media. NBC has a missing persons thriller of its own in Kidnapped, wherein each episode will detail one day's work in the investigation into a child's disappearance.
Even comedies are getting in on the act: ABC is developing a sitcom called A Day in the Life, created by King of Queens executive producers Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith. The show will be a real-time look at what happens over the course of a couple's wedding day. This particular concept sounds like a variation on the original idea for the Alphabet's Jake in Progress, which was supposed to document one date over the course of an entire season. (We'll forever have to wonder whether that version of Jake would have been better than the one ABC actually decided to air.)
|CBS has no real incentive to put on a show like Lost or 24 when it can use its crime shows as filler whenever necessary and can successfully rerun them all summer long while the other networks suffer huge audience losses.|
It could be argued that ABC's Murder One, with its first-season format of following a single murder from crime to trial to aftermath, marked the advent of this more daring brand of storytelling. It could also be argued that this Steven Bochco production was ahead of its time, perhaps even too realistic for its own good, coming as it did on the heels of the O.J. Simpson trial. The reverse is true for a show like 24, which is able to capitalize on our fears and advantageously trade on our collective desire to quash terrorism. Both of these shows take their craft to the next level, going beyond their concepts to either alienate or attract an audience, but never settling for middle ground, a problem that plagued Reunion from the start. Outside of its year-to-year structure, the show didn't strive to be anything more than an ordinary soap opera. In a television era where ordinary is becoming less and less tolerated, Reunion failed to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Blame Fox, blame the writers, blame yourself for not even sampling it, but harbor no guilt for the cancellation of a show that failed to live up its own potential.
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