Last week I was mentioning that a viewer once wrote in to TV Guide that CBS should stand for Cancelled Before Seen, NBC for Now Being Cancelled, and ABC for Already Been Cancelled. Well, ABC, as of this season, has the highest body count of slaughtered, high-quality TV series. Not only has its cable network sacrificed the ingenious Kyle XY, but its broadcast network has no fewer than three shows that have been sent to oblivion before their time. And the sad fact is that these shows are not just victims of network short-sightedness. At least two of these works of inspired creativity are also the ironic casualties of creative people standing up for their rights.
Two of these shows started out as part of ABC’s fall lineup, but had their debut seasons cut short by the recent Writers Guild of America strike against the TV networks. In principle, I sympathized with and supported the TV writers in their action against producers and networks. As a writer myself, I understood their cause and cheered them on in their withholding of their talents in the face of unfair practices. Production companies and networks make colossal amounts of money from the use of these people’s work, and the reuse of it in DVD sales and Internet streams. It would be an exercise of the purest and most callous greed to cut the writers out of their share of those profits, and the writers did the right thing by calling them on it, even if it meant truncating an entire TV season to get their fair share. So I went along with it and didn’t complain; if I were in their position (as I once tried to be), I would have walked out too. But the strike cost two of TV’s most creative shows their audience share, while a third, which debuted as a midseason replacement, simply needed continued support from ABC and didn’t get it. TV Guide recently reported on what would have happened on these shows had they been kept on.
On Dirty Sexy Money starring Peter Krause, Nick would have wed Karen Darling (who had desperately wanted him and abused every other relationship in her life after he deflowered her) at the end of the season. Reverend Brian would have abused his rise in the ranks of the church to line his pockets. Young Jeremy would have lived his dream of going to space (if you have enough money, as the Darlings did, you can do that), but mechanical problems might have made it a one-way trip. Juliet would have been rescued from a kidnapper, married a football coach, and moved to Connecticut to become a drama teacher at a private girls’ school. Letitia would have been unfaithful to Tripp again, which may have precipitated her death. And in a bid for the Presidency, Patrick would have been assassinated.
On Pushing Daisies starring Lee Pace, had it gone to a third season, Chuck’s faked death would have been exposed and she would have “taken off with her parents--separating her from Ned”. But they would have remained in love, and in a flash-forward to the future (shades of Lost), a youthful Chuck would have come to see an aged, dying Ned in the hospital. To restore his life, Chuck would have sacrificed her own by kissing him--without a Saran Wrap barrier. (You’ll remember Ned had resurrected Chuck with his life-restoring touch, and the two could never consummate their love because another touch would have struck her dead permanently.) George Hamilton, as Ned’s long-lost father, would have become part of the ongoing mystery of the stolen pocket watches and the money that Chuck and Ned’s fathers looted during their time in the UN. Emerson and Lila, the mother of his baby, would have been reunited. Some unfinished stories from Pushing Daisies will be told in a comic book to be published by DC Comics. There is also a proposed movie about Ned battling “1000 corpses”. It’s described as “a comedic zombie movie”. I don’t like zombie movies; I find them gross and sickening. I’d rather have Pushing Daisies as Bryan Fuller created it still on TV.
On Eli Stone starring Jonny Lee Miller (which started at midseason), Maggie would finally have bedded the beauteous Eli at the end of a road trip. (Lucky gal--Jonny Lee Miller and co-star Sam Jaeger as Eli’s rival Matt Dowd were two of the most delicious pieces of eye candy on TV. They are rapturously beautiful guys. Even if the show itself weren’t so inventive and watchable, it would almost be worth tuning in just to see them--especially the bedroom scenes.) Eli and Maggie’s marriage would not have been a “happily ever after”. In another flash-forward (see what Lost has started?), Eli, who would be revealed to the world as a prophet at the end of the season, would have been the target of an assassination attempt that would claim Maggie’s life instead. We would have seen the return of Sigourney Weaver as God, this time in a musical number. (I loved the musical numbers in Eli's visions on this show.) Eli, no doubt in one of his visions, would also have somehow met his deceased father. And Eli’s soulmate, Grace, would have returned, though no longer played by Katie Holmes.
I am assuming that the episodes left unaired for all of these series at cancellation time will be on their DVD collections, which I am of course going to have to rent from Netflix just because I am a completist. (I had to do the same thing with another ABC series, The Masters of Science Fiction. Add another fine show to the ABC casualty list.) The loss of Kyle XY, Pushing Daisies, and Eli Stone is especially painful, in light of what that means for the content of television. These two shows were great not just for their ideas, writing, and acting, but because they bucked the trend of current TV. In recent years there has been a lot of pushing of the envelope in terms of what you can do and say and show on television. TV has increasingly given itself permission to be provocative and take risks. They’ve been more frank and honest about sex. At least on cable, they’ve been a little less afraid of the human body (see Nip/Tuck and its unabashed butt shots of Julian McMahon and Dylan Walsh and some of the guest stars like Mario Lopez and Thad Luckinbill, and its unflinching R-rated portrayals of sexual activity. See the aforementioned butt shots here, here, here, and here--but not at the office!) They’ve grown a little more honest about language. TV has evolved, but that evolution has come at a price. The price is an erosion of charm.
The wonderful thing about Kyle, Daisies, and Eli is that these shows were also as honest as they could be about sex and language, but they were more charming. They were kind, gentle shows. They weren’t coarse in the way they did things. They weren’t “dark” (a popular buzz word these days); they weren’t twisted and cynical and perverse. Their characters were multi-faceted, but they were endearing. Their stories showed that while there is a twisted and perverse side to human nature, there are also still such things as love and decency and compassion and beauty. They even had a sense of whimsy about them (especially Daisies and Eli). They were frank and honest, but they were balanced. And they came at a time when I thought you couldn’t do charm on TV any more. I thought the prevailing wisdom was that charm would no longer sell; that no one wanted to do television that way on the assumption that the audience wanted to see only the perversity and cynicism. “You can’t do endearing; you’ve got to make it twisted.” Look at Nip/Tuck and Mad Men--both great shows, but would you want any of those people in your house except on a TV screen? Many of the shows I’ve loved best over the years have traded on charm. (For a comedy, think Mary Tyler Moore; for a drama or dramedy, think Northern Exposure.) The existence of Kyle, Daisies, and Eli proved me wrong about the sacrifice of charm--for a brief moment. Their cancellation, even though in the case of Pushing Daisies it was a case of a show that lost its momentum in the justified strike of part of Hollywood’s creative talent and couldn’t recover its audience, means that for the immediate future, TV will probably be less willing to take a chance on charm.
It may be some time before we see shows with such endearing characters and stories again. Evolution progresses, but it also recedes. I’ll miss these shows, their stories, and their stars. I’ll miss Matt Dallas and Jonny Lee Miller and Lee Pace and the characters they played. And I’ll miss what they brought to TV, and what those shows so briefly represented.