It seems that each season we see more and more television shows put on hiatus if they don’t perform extremely well their first few episodes. Each season I see show after show go on a break in the fall to come back in the spring and they either come back to even weaker ratings than before or don’t come back at all. I really have to wonder when the networks will give shows a chance before putting them on off-air life support and then eventually pulling the plug.
There have been many shows over the past few years that have not survived long hiatuses. Two of the best happened to appear on ABC. Defying Gravity, the incredible futuristic space drama, went off the air in the early fall after disappointing ratings. ABC said it was just a hiatus and it would come back. It never did. This show was incredibly unique and could have been a multi-season hit if ABC would have done a few things. First, they shouldn’t have started it so late in the summer. They started airing it in the no-man’s land time period when summer is winding down and fall is starting. Most fall shows don’t start until mid-to-late-September, but Defying Gravity was placed on the air at the very beginning of August. By the time people settled onto their couches for fall TV, ABC was ready to yank the show off the air. That wasn’t the only show that ABC killed by hiatus though.
Last year ABC tried to replicate the success of Lost with a serialized drama in which (almost) everyone on the planet passed out at once and when they woke up they realized they dreamt their futures. The show was Flash Forward and it was so good it had me coming back every single week. Then ABC did something that made sure it would not come back for a second season… They put it on hiatus for months before deciding to show the rest of the season in late spring. How could they expect the viewership to stay steady or even rise when the show was gone for months? It’s ridiculous. ABC can’t take all the blame for hiatus-canceling. NBC is doing it too.
The only new show that I think has been great from week to week this season is NBC’s The Event. It has a great story and tells it in a great way, with a mixture of flashbacks and episodes that focus on single characters. Of course, that type of storytelling isn’t new, Lost did the exact same thing, but it still feels fresh on The Event. My hopes were raised a little bit when NBC picked up the drama for a full season, but then they were squashed again when I read that they were taking it off the air until next year. NBC said they plan to reintroduce the show to viewers in the spring and air the rest of the first season then. What that basically tells me is that NBC has given up on the series and doesn’t expect it to come back next season.
These were just a few of the recent shows that have experienced long hiatuses that basically killed the show. There are some more shows that have just come back or haven’t come back yet that will most likely be hurt by their own hiatuses. Fringe came back late this fall and is doing so bad in ratings that Fox moved the show to dead show land, Friday nights. Parks and Recreation is coming back to NBC, but it is unclear how its absence has affected its ratings. Another show with a long hiatus, V, will be coming back soon and I have no doubt that it won’t see season 3. In fact, I have no idea how V made it to season 2 and Flash Forward didn’t.
So, if a hiatus is the kiss of death for a show, why do so many shows go on hiatus? Why are they not given the chance to blossom and thrive? Mainly because of money. The networks have taken it upon themselves to green light more and more pilots each year, knowing that some won’t last. This gives them plenty of material to fill the spots for quick cancellations and mid-season replacements. The problem here, in my opinion, is that quantity rarely equals quality. The more shows that are produced and thrown out there, the bigger the pressure. You don’t succeed in the first few episodes, you’re done. It’s reasons like these that some of the best shows in TV history wouldn’t be on the air anymore. No Seinfeld, which did horribly the first season. No The West Wing. There would not have been Cheers (ranked 77 of 77 for the premiere).
I think it’s pretty clear that these days hiatus means death. I think it TV would be much better if it really got behind a handful of new series each season and really stuck with them. Perhaps their lack of support and commitment is exactly why the best show on television are on basic and premium cable.