What TV show would you bring back from the dead?
If you had your choice, what canceled television show would you revive?
I asked myself this question the other day when I was considering how the television market has shattered into a thousand pieces.
Once upon a time, to earn a spot on a network roster, a show had to deliver an audience of millions of people, preferably tens of millions of people. It had to produce about 26 shows a season, and it had to maintain its appeal across the broadest demographic expanse possible. The show also had to build a base for later syndication, which tended to ensure that it had plot lines that would end after 45 minutes or so.
Looking at that general set of propositions seems to guarantee a product that almost certainly has to be dumbed down. Characters have to be bland enough to appeal to a lot of people. Stories have to neatly wrap up at the end of an episode and storylines (if there is an arc) need to wrap up to some extent at the end of a season.
To some extent all of those guidelines have faded in recent years. With the profusion of cable and premium channel choices, shows are more frequently designed with a niche audience in mind. A show can have a story arc to it that can extend from season to season.
I got to thinking about this the other day when I heard about the death of actor William Windom at the age of 88. Windom was a reliably good character actor in Hollywood. He was seen most on television, but he also made his mark in theatrical films. In 1970, Windom starred in an offbeat television show called "My World And Welcome To It." The show was specifically based on the writings of James Thurber. It featured a mix of live action and whimsical animation. It won two Emmy Awards in 1970, one for best comedy series and one to Windom for outstanding performance by an actor in a comedy. And then it was promptly canceled.
As a teenager at the time, I thought the show was marvelous. It introduced me to the wit of Thurber, and it was unlike anything else on television at the time. My guess is that it looks a lot less impressive four decades later, but imagine what HBO or AMC or FX networks could do with that idea today. Take the humor of Thurber and create a series to spotlight it. Produce about 12 episodes a year and don't worry about having to reach a crowd of 20 million people. The criteria have changed, and television has evolved to allow more flexibility.
But back to the subject here: What show would I want to revive?
My choice would be "Firefly." The marvelous Joss Whedon sci-fi/western hybrid that debuted (and perished) in 2002. According to Wikipedia, it attracted an average audience of about 4.7 million people per episode. It was canceled after the 11th of the season's 14 episodes had aired. To me it was a great mixture of elements. It was basically a cowboy show set in outer space. The characters were vivid and enjoyable and the stories were playful and thought-provoking. It also melded Western culture with Asian, producing interesting results. It had its own playful language that served it well. Even the music, which featured slide guitar and the fiddle, was a delight.
Unfortunately, despite all its creative promise, the show was gone in a matter of weeks. Fan forums still ring with regret over this too-hasty decision.
Whedon managed to get some closure for fans of the show by producing "Serenity," a theatrical film that picked up the characters of "Firefly" and put them in a more conventional sci-fi plot. It was enjoyable but lacked the unique elements of the original show. Alas, that particular lightning won't be captured in a bottle again, but it is fun to imagine what would happen if that show were pitched now. Improved special effects, shorter seasons, more splintered audiences might allow the bar for success to be a little more attainable. You can imagine a niche show like "Firefly" finding a place in the media universe as it stands now.
Is there a favorite show of yours that was canceled too soon? Is there a television show that you would like to see brought back? Share your thoughts and opinions with us.
Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.