Are you ready to save the new television show “The Inside”? Ready to join all the e-mail drives, boycotts and letter campaigns to demand that this quirky, intelligent show be kept on the air? OK, granted, “The Inside” won’t actually debut for two more months or so, but having seen how the Fox Network operates I figured starting the petitions early would just save time.
Alas, it’s doomed from the start. “The Inside” is being produced by Tim Minear, co-producer and writer for such weird and wonderful shows as “Angel” (canceled too soon), “Firefly” (canceled even sooner), and “Wonderfalls” (canceled almost before the opening credits). So you know he’ll bring some familiar faces to both sides of the camera and it’ll be witty, surprisingly dramatic, and almost impossible to describe.
See? Doomed. But I’m not worried because I’ve finally figured out Fox’s cunning plan: obviously they want people to stop watching television altogether. It’s a radical method of beating the other networks once and for all, in a we’ll-all-go-down-together sort of way, but it’s the only possible answer.
Why else would they keep moving shows around faster than the eye can see? “Family Guy,” “Wanda at Large,” “The O.C.” and “Tru Calling” are recent ping-pongees but nothing matches “Greg the Bunny,” which debuted on a Wednesday, moved to Sunday, then back to Wednesday for a while, then to Friday, then finally back to Sunday. It was cancelled after exhausted viewers collapsed, TV Guides still in hand.
Why continue to consign promising shows to the dreaded Friday Night Death Slot, the pit of programming despair that’s been sucking down and grinding up shows ever since the original “Star Trek”? “Wanda at Large,” “Boston Public,” “John Doe,” “Millennium,” “Playing it Straight,” “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” and “Wonderfalls” all fell under the Friday Night Sentence of Summary Execution.
Clearly there are some benefits to creative rescheduling and abusive handling. For one thing it turns a large amount of casual fans into a small, core group of rabid, diehard fans who will devote their lives to trying to keep the show alive, and that’s always fun. Plus you get truckloads of mail, which really saves on the heating bills.
And if you pre-empt a show with every strong gust of wind that comes along, you might even save back enough unaired episodes to make a whole other season the way Fox did with “Futurama.” Incredibly cost effective, and certainly worth a few network executive effigy burnings.
But Fox’s crowning glory is “Firefly,” the poster child for malicious programming.
Created by Joss Whedon of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” fame, “Firefly” was well written, funny, exciting, and original. The characters were multilayered and perfectly cast, the plots were intelligent and utterly lacking in TV cliches, the look and feel were perfect. Had it appeared on a Monday night it would have disappeared without a trace after only nine or ten excellent, groundbreaking seasons.
Instead, canny Fox executives took the bold move of skipping the first episode and then broadcasting the rest out of sequence, on Friday night, to prevent viewers from accidentally becoming interested in it while searching for reruns of “That 70’s Show.” But, after the cancellation and the massive fan outbursts and the zillions of DVDs sold and the resultant motion picture deal, did anyone thank the plucky, forward-thinking executives that made it all happen? Ha!
They kicked “Futurama” around and it won Emmys. They cancelled “Family Guy,” twice, and it outsold both “Friends” and “Sex in the City” in 2003. “Wonderfalls” was cancelled after only four episodes but the DVD set, which came out yesterday, was the fourth highest selling DVD on Amazon.com yesterday afternoon.
And that’s what’s in store for “The Inside.” Its inevitable destiny is to flare, get pre-empted every other week for local high school basketball games, die young, and come out next fall in a box set.
Why fight it? Between show-shuffling and endless episodes of “The Swan” and “Marry Some Schmoe for Money,” Fox has won. I’m canceling my cable; no longer will I search in vain for new shows on network television. Instead I’ll just wait six months and pick ’em up at Best Buy.
But write Fox anyway. They get a kick out of it.