Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sophomore Slaughter

The "sophomore slump" occurs whenever the follow-up to a pop culture phenom fails to live up to the original. In the TV world, it occurs when the second season of a TV series doesn't match the quality of the first. Some shows weather this storm and continue on. Others are cancelled before they can even recover. And yet others are axed even if they don't fall victim to the slump—even if the second season is on a par with the first.

For some reason, I’m always surprised when shows are cancelled in their second seasons or later. To me, cancellation seems like the gauntlet that first-year shows run, and once they’re past that trial, they’ve earned the right to end on their terms—or, at least, end with a little advance notice. No such luck.

ABC reminded me of this misconception a couple of months ago with the sudden (and simultaneous) cancellation of three sophomore series: Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, and Dirty Sexy Money. I hadn’t gotten into Dirty Sexy Money, but I was a big fan of the other two. And this move by ABC—cancelling three series in one fell swoop—struck me as particularly ruthless. At least when shows are cancelled individually, I can pretend like it was a hard decision for the network to make. But when three shows are cancelled at once, it just seems to me like the network just made a snap business decision regardless of each show’s merits. What a stark reminder of just how much of a numbers game the TV biz is.

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