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It Never Ends

When I heard that Wonderfalls had been cancelled, I just sighed, because I already know the next part of the story. Outraged emails. Anguished message board posts. Online Petitions. "Save our Show" campaigns. Hurt feelings all around. The movement gains momentum. Money is raised. Sometimes, billboards are made. And then a different show gets the axe and everybody gets distracted.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic to people who were big fans of Wonderfalls or Angel or Firefly or Undeclared or Greg the Bunny or whatever show you feel was never given a fair chance. It's just that I don't think people should be taking the cancellations so personally. The network isn't saying that Wonderfalls was a bad show or that you're a bad person for watching it; they're saying that when it replaced Boston Public on Friday, their viewers dropped from 4.9 million to 3.8 million. And when they gave it a shot on Thursday, it finished in fifth place. Yeah, CBS's CSI and NBC's The Apprentice were going to beat it no matter what. But it was also behind UPN's Smackdown and ABC's Extreme Makeover. It only beat the WB's two episodes of the Jamie Kennedy Experiment.

In other words, Wonderfalls was struggling on Fridays, so it was given a shot on Thursday, when it did even worse. I realize it's disappointing, but when a show gets ratings like that, it gets cancelled.

In fact, even without ratings like that, shows get cancelled. Aside from the occasional M*A*S*H or Gunsmoke, almost every show on television gets cancelled shortly after it becomes unprofitable. It's always sad for the fans. Me, I was a huge Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan. And when Comedy Central axed it, I was outraged. When Sci-Fi canned it, I was, again, outraged. But on the other hand, that show lasted ten seasons. That's a long time for a basic cable show with puppets, you know? I had to accept that television networks are not in the business of making shows out of the goodness of their hearts.

One argument you sometimes hear is that networks should "give a good show some time." And it's true, some shows have started off slow and taken time to build an audience. Hardly anyone watched the first season of Seinfeld (when it was called "The Seinfeld Chronicles"). But if I were a network executive, I don't think that argument would fly with me. Hollywood is full of people with ideas for new shows. I can either continue to fund Low-Rated Critically-Popular Series X, or I can give money to Unknown Quantity Series Y. Doesn't it seem like as a business decision, it's at best a coinflip? Because let's face it, no matter how bad a show is, somebody is going to lament its passing. There are still some people angry about the way The Lone Gunmen ended on a cliffhanger.

So here's what I'd like you, the outraged television viewer to do. First, accept that your favorite shows aren't going to last forever. For that matter, if the ratings dip, they might not last out the season. Television is a business, and it doesn't matter how good a show is if it's not perceived as profitable. Second, keep in mind that if you get angry at networks for cancelling your favorite show, that doesn't really mean you should stop watching that network. If you still hold it against Fox that they cut John Doe, and you won't watch UPN until they bring back Jake 2.0, and the loss of Homeboys from Outer Space still makes you cry -- well, all I'm saying is that it's only going to take two or three seasons until you've crossed all the networks off your list. Most new shows don't make it, so if you become 100% emotionally invested starting with the pilot episode, you should prepare yourself for disappointment.

Third, and I can't stress this enough, don't send TeeVee your form letters asking us to raise awareness of a show's plight. The odds are very good that not only do we not care, we're kind of glad it's gone.


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