Fall '99: "Mission Hill"
When it came time to dole out assignments for this year's new shows, I was the one who said he'd give Mission Hill a look-see. I was the one who promised to turn in a scintillating review, packed with wry insights and clever analogies and polysyllabic, impressive-sounding words like "milieu" and "lugubrious" and "contretemps." I was the one who should have meticulously studied The WB's new animated offering and told you where it falls on the cartoon evolutionary scale: In a class with Top Cat? A few shades below Huckleberry Hound? Or something just this side of Jabberjaw?
Yup. I should have done all that. Instead, I'm the one who's punting faster than Klaus Wilmsmeyer when 4th and 17 rolls around.
Believe me, when the Sept. 21 premiere date for Mission Hill rolled around, I was all set to watch this latest opus from two Simpsons alums and get their cunning take on today's youth. And for the first five minutes, I watched every last frame of Mission Hill, taking copious notes and forming well-supported arguments and, in general, soaking in its cartoony je ne se quois.
And then, I became very, very bored. And so I changed the channel.
I like to think I went on to do better, more valuable things -- teach a child to read, plant a tree in my backyard, go down to the old folks' home and sing a couple of standards. But, knowing me, I probably just watched sports. And a Dodger game at that, I'll bet.
The point is, I fell down on the job. And I felt just terrible about it. Really. I'm almost sure of it. See these? Lash scars.
Yes, I thought to myself in between remorseful sobs, I really blew it with the ol' Mission Hill premiere. But I could at least take some small comfort in the fact that when Mission Hill aired the next week, I could come through then with the review to end all reviews.
Only there was no next week. Or the week after that.
Indeed, the next episode of Mission Hill didn't run until Oct. 8 -- some 18 days after the show's debut. I'm not sure what I was doing that Friday night at 8 p.m., but I can assure you, it was not watching The WB. People old enough to drive a car have better things to do on Fridays than watch The WB.
Considering that The WB aims its shows at a youthful audience -- a demographic not exactly known for its lengthy attention span -- you can guess what happened next. Mission Hill scored an anemic 1.1 rating in its second outing. That was down 33% from the show that aired in that same time slot a week earlier -- perennial Nielsen juggernaut The Jamie Foxx Show. Clearly, Jamie and his immediate relatives didn't tune in, thus cutting down on Mission Hill's audience share.
Well, faster than you can say, "Good God, the show couldn't even outdraw that bilge Jamie Foxx churns out," WB executives yanked Mission Hill from the schedule until the coast is all clear. Maybe that's in January after a rerun-filled holiday season leaves Americans so starved for entertainment, they'll even watch a joyless cartoon. Maybe that's in summer, when unaired episodes of long-forgotten TV shows can die a quiet, dignified death. Or maybe, just maybe, it will be never.
That's beside the point, really. As uninteresting as it was -- and believe me, nothing in the first five minutes of Mission Hill made me particularly disappointed that I didn't gut it out until minute number eight -- the show deserved better treatment. Maybe the show was no damned good, maybe it wasn't. But we'll never really know, now, will we? Not after The WB tied Mission Hill's feet together, hung a couple of lead weights around its hips, threw it into the deep end of the pool and expected it to make like Mark Spitz.
It would seem that if you ran a network whose fortunes hinged upon attracting viewers each night, your best course of action would be to set a schedule, promote it and leave it be for a couple of months. Your shows will either build up the audience they deserve or fritter way without causing anyone any undue consternation. The worst thing you could do is to grab wildly for the kill switch at the first sign of trouble.
And yet, here's The WB rounding up the wounded and shooting the survivors. One of the reasons Mission Hill got sent off to its room? Tracking polls indicated that many viewers were unaware the program had even debuted, thanks in large part to a promotional campaign by The WB that would have done a CIA covert operative proud.
Sterling intellects over there at the Singing Frog network.
This is important for one key reason: It determines what you, the home viewer, will get to watch over the next nine months. Network neglect kills off many a bad program, like The Mike O'Malley Show, and many a mediocre one, such as the poor, put-upon Mission Hill. But it takes out far too many promising shows as well -- EZ Streets, Cupid, the list goes on. Freaks and Geeks is one of the best new shows of this year, but you'll likely never see it because the ratings are poor and NBC -- which hasn't lifted a finger to promote the program -- is itching to pull the trigger.
The result? You're left to watch an hour of Just Shoot Me reruns, wondering why it is TV sucks so badly. And network executives are left with gaping holes on their schedule, wondering why viewers are fleeing to cable in bunches.
Sorry. That's not much of a review of Mission Hill, which, after all, is what this was supposed to be. But like I said, I only caught the first five minutes of one episode.
Still, that's more of a chance than The WB ever gave it.
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