Thursday, April 26, 2007

Drive Post Mortem

Another Tim Minear show on on FOX, another cancellation. For those keeping score at home, Drive follows on the heels of Firefly, Wonderfalls and The Inside. Wonderful shows all, with a rich tapestry of characters, outstanding performances and delicious scripts. But the bottom line is this: they're "cult" shows.

Here's what I don't understand. Supposedly, FOX signed Minear to a large holding deal to have him develop and run shows for them. What exactly in Minear's past led them to believe that he would develop anything other than a cult show? I'm a huge Minear fan -- a member of the "cult" as it were -- but there's nothing about the four shows mentioned above that says "huge mainstream breakout hit" to me. Lost and Heroes (and previously, The X-Files after airing consistently for several years) are the exception rather than the rule for intricately plotted, exceptionally crafted shows achieving some semblance of mainstream ratings success. FOX has shown no desire to put up with low ratings to achieve some measure of critical acclaim. FOX is in the business to make money and garner viewers (and more quickly than ever), and Minear's shows, no matter how beloved and well done, simply don't do that for them on a large enough scale.

You could legitimately complain that shows before Drive got the shaft from promotion or network meddling. Firefly famously was aired out of order, pushed to create a "simple action story" instead of the richly created two hour pilot, and was a tough sell anyway (fusion of reconstructionist western and sci-fi?). Wonderfalls and The Inside received little to no promotion and got yanked quickly. But I will say this for Drive: FOX did their damndest to promote it, with a few caveats. Personally, here's what I would have done:

  • In addition to the high energy promos, I would have sprinkled in lots of blurbs from prominent critics. There are plenty of noteworthy print and online critics who adored the show, and showing their acceptance and praise before the show even aired couldn't have hurt.
  • I would have aired the pilot -- in one hour form -- immediately after American Idol. Idol is the only true ratings juggernaut that FOX has, along with House, with already airs after Idol. (And if you'll recall, House languished in the ratings for many episodes before they used an Idol lead in to encourage sampling and build it into the top 10 show that it is currently). Maybe air the first 3 or 4 episodes behind Idol, THEN move it to the pre-24 slot on Mondays.
  • By making the pilot one hour, post-Idol, you would have encouraged more people to view it. With serialized shows, folks have the tendency to think "oh shit, this is complicated. I've already missed too much to jump in." By airing three hours of the show over two nights, by the time it gets any critical reception, watercooler chat, word of mouth or buzz, viewers feel like the ship has sailed and they can't catch up.

But all that is hindsight, and Drive is still garaged. We'll see the two episodes produced burned off this summer, hopefully. Which brings us back to Minear and his deal with FOX. I can't imagine them collaborating on another enterprise to be scuttled on the rocks of middling ratings on the FOX mothership network. Why don't they have him develop a show for FX? FX is home to superlative dramas like Rescue Me, The Shield and Nip/Tuck (and interesting experiments like Over There and Dirt) that don't require 10 million viewers to sustain life. 2 to 3 million viewers on FX is easily doable, with a devoted fanbase and critical praise. At the very least, even if it's a "one season and done" situation airing between 6 to 13 episodes (like Thief, and probably Dirt) at least you'll air all the episodes and give it a fair chance to attract attention and build an audience. In a fairly low risk environment. With all the location shooting and expensive SFX, Drive was probably too costly to follow this route, but The Inside and Wonderfalls would have been a perfect fit. I could have even deeply appreciated a "scaled back" Drive, with fewer nifty camera tricks and highway racing shots, and more low cost character development.

Time will tell what's next for Minear and FOX, but I hope they use what's left of their partnership to craft solid "singles" and "doubles" with lowered expectations, rather than looking for the "home run" on a huge stage that's all or nothing -- and frequently "nothing" for viewers who appreciate quality TV only to have it yanked out from under them.

Apparently, FX just renewed Dirt and The Riches (which I've Tivod, but not yet watched). This article makes clear what I was suggesting above: success in an environment with lower expectations, and there will probably be an opening in the schedule when The Shield retires -- perfect fit for Minear crafted show.

1 comment:

  1. I have no idea why Fox continues its relationship with Minear if they're just going to continue to short change him this way. Granted, Firefly was a screw you to Whedon more than Minear, but I just don't understand their thought process. I agree that his shows would do better on a cable channel where it wouldhave more of a chance to fly under the radar.

    As for Nathan, I do have a feeling he'll go the Lauren Graham route (hopefully without having to make out with Billy Bob Thornton the way she did). One day, he's going to be a huge, huge star.