It seems Pushing Daisies has finally, apparently, been cancelled. I say that because there’s still no official word beyond the fact that ABC isn’t ordering any more episodes beyond the initial 13 this season. No, the ratings have been underwhelming, to say the least. Yes, the show is expensive, even after trimming the budget after the pilot. From a business standpoint, the whole thing makes sense.
So why is ABC making a big mistake?
You could make the argument that it’s a critically acclaimed show–which is is, for the most part–and that it’s always good to keep those around. That’s fine. Me, I’ve been down that road with ABC before, albeit a different regime. (It’s a little scary to realize that article is already ten years old. Anyway. Moving on.)
No, there’s one solid reason to keep Pushing Daisies alive and kicking on the air, and it has nothing to do with its ratings or its fans. Bryan Fuller, the creator of Daisies as well as Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, was on the staff of Heroes in its first season. He was responsible for episodes like “Company Man,” widely considered the single best episode of the series. Since he left the staff, the show has gone downhill. (I’m being kind. The ratings have gone downhill. The writing has gone beyond.) And Fuller has stated that, if Daisies were indeed cancelled, he’d like to go back to Heroes and see if he could rescue it.
So let’s see. Here, we have ABC with a well-liked, critically acclaimed show created and run by a man who, were he not under contract, would go back to NBC and their former monster hit series and try to restore it to its previous ratings (and coherent) glory, a man credited with being the best writer who ever worked on that show. Does this make sense to you?
Me, I’d keep the player off the board. If that means keeping Daisies on the air, so be it. Who really loses there? The fans win, because the show stays on. The network wins, because it gets some press for sticking by someone with actual creative vision. And the network also wins because their rival’s series keeps struggling.
Of course, I would’ve brought the show back after the writers’ strike, even if only in reruns. How many classic series survived to a second or third season only because the reruns ran all summer long and gave people a chance to catch up and fall in love? (Hello, Dick Van Dyke!) But no, they kept the show off the air for NINE MONTHS and relaunched it cold this fall. No lead-up, no real promotion, no real explanation.
Considering the nine-month absence, I think I might have gone with a more concentrated promotional push aimed at reintroducing the show instead of assuming that people knew about it and were simply waiting for it to return. Great, people in a few major cities got free pies. That accomplished what, exactly?
And then, after the bounce in ratings from being the only alternative to the Obama-mercial, I probably wouldn’t have taken the show off for the following two weeks. Call me crazy, I’m thinking people came back the following week, found a reality show and ran away again.
Granted, as R. A. Porter reminded me, this is TV, not sports, “There’s no Billy Beane.” Very true, and maybe that’s a shame. The networks try counter-programming, but here’s a chance to do more than that. Oh well.
Maybe, if they had really been smart, they might have held off on bringing the show back until midseason. What’s a few more months between friends? Then, there would have been less noise, less competition, less frenzy. Maybe get some kind of promotional material in as many bakeries and pie shops around the country as possible. Maybe reintroduce the series over the Christmas holiday break, with two or three episodes across the week between holidays. Then, pair it up with a complimentary show, maybe give it a better lead in, maybe put it on Sunday evening where it might have a chance. Maybe go to a thirteen-episode-per-season schedule for some series, giving more time to concentrate on quality–this works for FX, BBC, etc. (It used to work for HBO, but that’s another story…)
I’m always amused–and a little insulted–when the networks try to pass off their programming as rocket science. (Well, everyone except Ben. Hi, Ben! Leave 30 Rock alone, and I won’t mock your talking car anymore…) Especially these days, when the niche channels are not just nipping at their heels but surpassing them in quality, acclaim, awards and–once in while–even ratings. Smart promotion, smart scheduling, a modicum of patience and a tolerance of quality. That’s all it takes.
I doubt anyone will come along and, like the Piemaker, raise Daisies from the dead for more than a minute, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from the show, it’s that it never hurts to be optimistic.
That, and stay away from nuns in green habits.