Dark Skies, IndeedDark Skies -- you know, the show that says JFK got whacked because he was going to tell us about Roswell -- is going the way of the dodo. Canceled. Canned. Kidnapped by aliens. On May 12th, there's a high probability that NBC's Saturday Night Thrillogy will be transformed into Cross-Eyed/Bad Haircut Theatre.
We know this not because we actually watch Dark Skies, but because its executive producer and co-creator, Bryce Zabel, sent us e-mail, both asking us to spread the word about how to save his show and acknowledging that we'd probably end up taking a baseball bat to his baby and leading the funeral.
At least that proves he's familiar with our work.
Let's face it -- we can't be kind to Dark Skies. We're already on the record likening it to classic NBC-spawned tripe like Manimal, and we suspect that only an otherworldly conspiracy could have gotten the show on the air in the first place. (Which Zabel's letter pretty much confirms, in his acknowledgment of Don Ohlmeyer.) Though it's hard not to like a show whose pilot episode featured a gun-toting chimpanzee. Unfortunately, it turned out that this simian Stallone wasn't a recurring character.
No, Dark Skies is not something that we would ever try overly hard to save. Frankly, we thought it had been canceled a long time ago, just like everybody else in North America. Besides, we haven't participated in a letter-writing campaign since they took Emergency! off the air, and actually admitting to high-powered network executives that we're home at eight o'clock on Saturday night isn't going to help our self-esteem any.
Mr. Zabel does try hard to make his case. He writes that, "at least seven million people each week (and often more) fought to watch the show, against all the odds." And though we suspect that a comparison between sacking out on the couch and escaping from East Berlin is a bit extreme, you have to respect the fact that "Dark Skies is currently a world-wide series, airing in Germany, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, etc." Or at least, you respect it until you remember that David Hasselhoff is also airing in those countries, which leads us to suspect that maybe the French are right in being so mad.
While we have to question the sanity of any man who would plead to have his show placed on The WB, we admire the fact that Zabel went out of his way to give us the addresses and phone numbers of every network programmer around. We're half tempted to spend this weekend calling Jamie Tarses and mumbling, "I got my 3D-glasses on, baby, and I'm watching you through my telescope..." into the phone. So you'll forgive us for getting a bit excited. It's not every day that we get letters from anybody other than Tori Spelling fans with dyslexia and Tourette's Syndrome, telling us that we're a bunch of "shtiheds."
But as much as we dislike Dark Skies -- which is plenty -- we loathe NBC's sinister programming chief Warren Littlefield, and all he stands for. And what happened to Mr. Zabel's show might as well be Exhibit A.
Zabel includes lots of vaguely exciting, behind-the-scenes reasons for Dark Skies pending cancellation in his letter, but the real villain isn't hiding behind some complex, extra-terrestrial conspiracy out to rule the world and brainwash people into thinking that Jay Leno is funny. It's simple stupidity -- the same knee-jerk, quick-take brainlessness that ends up taking the lives of shows we actually like, too.
NBC gave Dark Skies exactly two weeks to make an impression before shuffling it off into the video limbo where Wings shambled for years. For all the effort and ads and money that went into the show -- into any show -- NBC gave it exactly two hours (96 minutes actually) to sink or swim. Such behavior is totally insane of course, but it's also the first chapter in the 1996-97 edition of Network Programmers Handbook.
NBC obviously had no real interest in Dark Skies beyond its initial bus-and-billboard push, and did its damnedest to ride out a season-long commitment without actually lifting a finger. We've suffered through enough MTV-inspired "Thrillogy" ads to know that the Pretender and Profiler are network favorites. Dark Skies has seen more neglect than a red-headed step-child.
As the number of shows introduced and then discarded a season later approaches one-to-one parity, maybe the networks should take a little time to examine their "Must See TV" before they shovel it into the distribution trucks. And maybe -- just maybe -- offer it a little patience and opportunity once it's dropped off in great steaming heaps at our door. The number of people watching network television is sinking like a stone for a reason, and it's not just that the shows suck. After all, they've sucked for years.
Is Dark Skies great television, destined to be remembered as a classic strangled in the cradle? Of course not. It's the show that says JFK got whacked because he was going to tell us about Roswell, remember? But at the very least, it -- and the people who make and watch it -- are deserving of something more than a long-distance dumping by some bearded network exec the day after the show has failed to match up to his shameless, ejaculative enthusiasm.
At the start of this season, NBC told us Dark Skies was something special. If they didn't believe it, how were we supposed to?
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