There’s something depressingly familiar about the rumors that NBC’s The Event is destined for cancellation before the end of its first season. After all the hype and hope of the show’s launch, audiences and critics alike failed to care enough to ensure a second year. Still, at least it made it further than Undercovers, cancelled before it even reached mid-season. Why can’t NBC draw a genre audience anymore?
This wasn’t always the case; NBC has a fine history with genre series, including The A-Team, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Knight Rider, Quantum Leap and the original V. These days, what really can the network offer up? The Cape? The Event? Chuck? What happened?
I keep coming back to Heroes as the tipping point for NBC, for some reason. There was something about the way the network reacted to the surprise success of the first season – The sudden overexposure when it realized everyone was watching, with ads pushing “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World” into our heads all the time, the talk of a spin-off with big name directors that never happened, and the clear panic when audiences started to abandon the show because it had no clear direction after its first year – that felt like NBC didn’t know what to do anymore, how to keep either its viewers or its creators happy. From there, almost every genre show that followed was either a reboot (Bionic Woman, Knight Rider) that suffered both from a rushed debut and network-dictated reworking midseason or a rehash of shows that we’d seen before (The Event‘s conspiracy theories making the show feel like 24 by way of Lost, or The Cape‘s “Heroes but more ridiculous” targeting), with the one possible exception being Chuck – unsurprisingly, the closest thing to a hit NBC has had in this particular arena since Heroes.
Did Heroes break NBC’s spirit, or just its reputation? I’m not entirely sure; it’s true that NBC isn’t the only network to have trouble with new genre shows since, what, Lost…? But in NBC’s case, I really do think that’s down to its choice of material: It’s played things safe in a way that it doesn’t with non-genre drama, or comedy – It’s made what few genre programs it allows on the air to fail because it stops them from experimenting and being allowing them to succeed.
Wonder Woman might be the show that the network needs to break this cycle – the name is familiar, but the character itself still relatively obscure to the mainstream public beyond memories of the 1970s TV show, and David E. Kelley is definitely a different enough voice for this type of material that he might bring something new to it. But just in case he isn’t enough, I can think of another, more counter-intuitive idea for returning NBC to its days of genre glory: Bring Heroes back.
I know, I know: Have I lost my mind, or do I have a plan? Both, potentially. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to decide whether my return of Heroes pitch is the kind of thing that would get NBC’s groove back, or just bury the network once and for all.