Why I hate TV part II

Let me take you back to 1968, when the NFL and much of the TV industry was still in its infancy. Already in those days, NFL games were used as a lead in for Sunday night programming, capturing viewers who are too lazy to change the channel.

Well, on one fateful November Sunday in November, NBC had just such a thing planned. They’d show the Raiders play the Jets at 4:00, which would lead in to their made for TV movie Heidi at 7:00. Of course, that game ran late – but due to a communications mix up, Heidi still started on schedule, and the game was cut short. Coincidentally, the Heidi Game, as it came to be called, was one of the most exciting games in NFL history. Fans were outraged, and the end result of the debacle is that networks are now beholden to show all sports games in their entirety, regardless of how long they run or what adverse effect it would have on the regular schedule.

Given this, and given that NFL games rarely finish when they’re supposed to, it’s inexplicable why any network airing an NFL game would schedule something new in that 7:00 time slot. Yet, when Fox premiered Matt Groening’s Futurama in 1999, that’s exactly what they did. The show was crippled by this from the getgo; Fox would often fail to air it at all; when it did air it was often aired late or with the first several minutes cut off. From season to season, so many episodes would get unaired that each production run was truncated to account for the backlog of episodes, and the shows fifth and final season was composed entirely of this episode backlog.

It’s no surprise that the show was canceled; perhaps the most surprising thing is that it lasted as long as it did given it’s mishandling by the network.

Futurama was a rare gem; the heir apparent to The Simpsons’ golden age. The quality of the artwork and animation was top notch, particularly contrasted against other contemporary animated shows. It was a wicked satire of the Seinfeld and Friends type shows that dominated TV when it launched, with a science fiction twist (and depressingly, was often the best actual science fiction on TV). For an animated show, it had remarkable (but not perfect) continuity, with long term plot development. There was a remarkable depth to the humor and the show’s satire, commentating upon philosophy, the human condition, life, and society.

Not surprisingly given its overall quality, the show has enjoyed a successful afterlife. Cartoon Network started showing the show in its entirety at 11:00 every night, and DVD releases restored the episodes to their proper order and grouping. In fact, the show has enjoyed such post-mortem success that the network which originally killed it through incompetence is now talking about resurrecting it from the dead, much as they’ve recently done with Family Guy.

Now, I love Futurama. I’d love to see it return for another few seasons, as I feel the show was killed off just as it was reaching its prime. But what irks me to no end is the way it was victimized by incompetent network executives and producers – something that seems to happen quite frequently on the Fox network, other examples being Firefly (pilot episode skipped and the rest shown out of order, in another timeslot of death, Friday night), Arrested Development, and what originally happened to Family Guy. This is what pisses me off to no end – when a terrific show isn’t even given the chance to succeed because of the way television economics and politics works. It’s one of those things that I really hope the internet changes – when consumers have the freedom to experience these shows without the limitations of time slots, the NFL, or mishandling, perhaps these shows will find their feet in their first run, and not have to be “resurrected”.

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