IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED: The prime-time postmortem is in full swing, with more than the usual amount of schadenfreude (that’s German for feeling good when other people fail) from TV critics everywhere.
Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle looked back at the dying season and its casualties and came up with a bit of 20/20 hindsight on how the networks could have saved their more notable failures. The biggest problem, in Goodman’s opinion, was an identity crisis that overcame the networks this year, who seemed to have forgotten just what they were good at, and tried to compete with each other on unfamiliar turf. To wit, Fox’s Back To You might have fared better on CBS — conventional wisdom at this point — and the CW’s Aliens In America would have been a better fit on Fox. ABC’s Miss Guided might have stood a chance on either NBC or Fox, but Viva Laughlin, which bombed on CBS, probably wouldn’t have survived anywhere, since there’s no precedent for a musical succeeding on prime time at all — did no one learn from Cop Rock?
One of the season’s failures that seems to have already been forgotten is Quarterlife, the sitcom that NBC took from the web to prime time and ditched when it failed to thrive. There was a flurry of defiantly positive press leading up to the show’s prime-time premiere, anticipating web-developed shows as the way of the future, creatively and financially, but since Quarterlife proved to have the half-life of a tuna melt on a dock, we haven’t heard much in the same vein since. Which is why ABC’s decision to pick up In The Motherhood for a mid-season debut is so surprising. I hadn’t heard of it until Silicon Valley Insider ran a piece on the show’s good fortune, but the sitcom has been pulling respectable numbers for its 7-minute online episodes — 16 million streaming downloads of the second season so far, compared to Quarterlife’s measly few million.
Goodman, in his postmortem piece, says ABC’s Cavemen was probably doomed from the start, since “making a sitcom out of an insurance commercial just rubbed everyone the wrong way,” so it remains to be seen how Motherhood, which was co-developed by Suave toiletries and Sprint, will win over audiences. The show, an acidly observational take on modern parenting starring Jenny McCarthy and Leah Remini, is definitely better-written than Quarterlife, if only for the offhanded observation that fanny packs emasculate men quicker than a mishap with a weed whacker. The Insider piece was optimistic about the shows’ chances, pointing out it has two name stars, will air on a network known for women’s programming, and “is targeted at a demographic that still watches plenty of television: 30-something moms.” It also costs a mere $40,000 US a minute to produce, “cheap by TV standards but astronomical for a web series.”
By this point, however, shows should probably be migrating from TV to web, not the other way around, but getting the networks to see this is like getting water to run uphill.