The TV networks spend millions each year on market testing to determine which shows are likely to survive and which to flounder.
I could save them a whole lot of money.
If the Missus and I get hooked on a series, then it’s doomed. Pretty simple.
The latest casualty of the Butler Curse is “Men of a Certain Age,” the superb series about three boyhood friends (Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher) uncomfortably working their way toward 50.
The show was everything you could want– terrifically acted, screamingly funny, unexpectedly touching and always realistic.
Of course it didn’t have a chance.
Not that the network did it any favors. TNT split the just-ended season in two, running the first half several months ago, then pulling it from the air before starting the second series of episodes (as it turns out, the show’s final arc) after an absence of several months.
And the suits were disappointed because “Men” failed to keep its viewers during the long blackout? Duh.
This business of carving a season up into two mini-seasons separated by many weeks has been employed with other shows, like the wonderful cop drama “Southland.” Any more when I see that happening I know the show’s in trouble.
But even without boneheaded choices in the executive suite, “Men of a Certain Age” had a problem. It was too good. Insufficiently dumb.
When you look over TV’s bright spots — particularly the winning series on HBO and Showtime — it’s easy to think that TV viewers, unlike movie goers, are pretty discriminating. But that’s an illusion.
The premium cable channels do well at least in part because the viewer is paying extra for their programming and, gosh darn it, if I’m paying for it I’m going to take advantage of it.
When it comes to non-premium TV, we’re a lot more lackadaisical.
The Butler Curse goes back at least to 1987 and the wonderful “Frank’s Place,” the Tim Reid comedy about a New Yorker who inherits his late father’s New Orleans restaurant. It lasted all of 22 episodes, each one better than the last.
Since then not a season has passed in which the same scenario hasn’t kicked in: Our household falls in love with a new show only to see it blown out of the water by poor ratings or inept network decisions.
At least we got closure with “Friday Night Lights,” which was saved when Direct TV agreed to pay for its last three seasons and then later lease the show back to NBC, its original home.
But that was one happy ending in a long list of frustration and loss.
| Robert W. Butler