Selfie Immolation

by wombatony

I guess the world and pop culture moved on while I was taking my one-month writing sabbatical. Not sure who the hell gave them permission to do that. But now I have to catch up.

So am I here to write about the horrors of Ferguson? Or maybe the effect that the midterm elections will have on Obama’s second term and place in history? What about the spread of Ebola and its implications on civil liberties?

Nope. I’m here because those bastards cancelled Selfie!

Most years I have two reactions to the first round of TV cancellations. The first is “Really? That sounded like a stupid show” or “I totally saw that coming.” Next, I expunge my DVR of the remaining episodes of whatever show was just canceled. I can usually read the tea leaves and hold off watching a few shows until they get the pick-up. This year, I’m still waiting on Forever.  I watched the first few episodes and thought it was okay, if a bit thin, but I can see its ratings and don’t want to get too vested.  If it somehow makes it to the end of the season and gets picked up for another, I guess I’ll get caught up over the summer.

This year, I aired my rare third reaction. It’s a mixture of “Man, you didn’t even give that a chance” and “What precisely did you think would happen with that show?”  Although I saw it coming, this was my reaction to Selfie.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to wax lyrical about the brilliance of this show. And I’m not going to malign the multitudes for not watching. Had I been blogging when Better Off Ted failed to find traction, you would all be getting a stern finger wagging. But Selfie was no Better Off Ted. It wasn’t a great show. But in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t bad. In a world where Two and a Half Men and Everybody Loves Raymond can each reign supreme for a decade, there should certainly be room for Selfie.

A number of shows, particularly sitcoms, need a little time to find their way. It’s always worth noting that Cheers got horrible ratings in its first season. Truthfully, Cheers is still a show that takes a number of episodes for a new viewer. It is an wkward show to introduce people to, no matter what season you’re watching, because so much of the humor involves knowing the characters and all of their foibles. Think about it – the brilliance of the episode where Cliff goes on Jeopardy is lost upon someone who hasn’t spent many weeks listening to him as the know-it-all that annoys the whole bar with his inane trivia. Trust me, I’ve tried a number of times to show some Cheers episodes to my students. Episodes I find hilarious fall flat, and it’s not just because the times have changed. Show them an episode of I Love Lucy or Welcome Back, Kotter, and they laugh at all the right spots. But not Cheers.

And let me reiterate, I’m not saying Selfie was anywhere close to Cheers, only that some shows need a season or two to figure out what they have. I thought the Robin Williams sitcom last year fell into the category of shows that get better in the second half of the first season when they figure out how the characters should interact. It started out trying to put Sarah Michelle Gellar on equal footing with Robin Williams, but then they realized that a) Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t a comic lead, and b) there were three other very funny actors next to her. The last half of the season, it turned into an ensemble behind Robin Williams and it was much better.

Of course, the viewers didn’t come back to the Robin Williams show, because once you decide the show is a lost cause, you don’t check to see if you’re right later in the season. So Selfie never would have gotten to where they needed it to be. But it wasn’t the show’s fault.

Selfie also had some good ensemble actors to work with. Poor John Cho just can’t get a break. For a guy who started his career out as the “MILF Guy” from American Pie before starring in a slew of Harold and Kumar movies, the guy actually has some acting chops.  He was pretty good in FlashForward, a drama that lasted only one season. Last year, he played alongside Matthew Perry, another guy who can’t seem to gain any traction post-Friends. That show only lasted a year. Seeing a trend? I would say he is becoming this generation’s Ted McGinley, except that Ted McGinley brought about the demise of established shows, not new ones.

But any question about John Cho’s ability to act should be answered by Star Trek. He plays a Korean ensign who will grow up to become a Japanese captain. I mean, that’s some ability!

As for Karen Gillan, I’m not overly familiar with her ability, because I was late to the Dr Who party. I’m currently on Martha Jones, who is at least two companions before Amy Pond, the one played by Karen Gillan, and I only watch over the summer when shows like Forever don’t get picked up for a second season. Friends have assured me that Amy Pond was a good companion. I will have to take their word for it. They have also informed me that Karen Gillan is attractive. I am proud to announce that I have verified this information.

In Selfie, her character didn’t seem to have much consistency.  The writers seemed to have trouble growing her beyond the vapid narcissist that the show was based on. The same could be said for John Cho’s character. The only consistent characters were the aloof boss and gossipy receptionist. This seems to happen a lot in new sitcoms, as the writers realize the main characters have to become more well-rounded than the initial kooky-crazy person created for the up-fronts. But the lesser characters don’t have to evolve. They can stay with their shtick. And if the show lasts as long as The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother, those quirky characters might even become the focus. Yes, I said it. Sheldon and Barney were never intended to be the front characters. And I think both shows suffered when each character grew from random comedic interjection to focal point.

The failure of Selfie lies squarely at the feet of the TV execs for a number of horrible decisions in the placement and promotion of a show that had a chance. The main problem was its place on the schedule. The horrible name didn’t help. Oh, and selling it as a modern day My Fair Lady. Boy, nothing says hot and modern like referencing a 60 year old Broadway play. And the ultra-ephemeral name was just seen as overcompensating. But really, really. Those weren’t the major problems. The major problem was where it was placed on the schedule.

ABC put it on Tuesday night opposite NCIS, which is one of the top, if not the actual highest, rated shows on television. Okay, whatever, something’s got to go up against it, and maybe they draw from different crowds. Plus everybody has a DVR these days, so no biggie. I managed to record both shows for a few weeks despite the fact that they were on at the same time.

After those two weeks, though, CW added The Flash to their schedule.  This is a show I’ve been looking forward to for a year, ever since it was announced. So a few days before it was set to air, I thumbed forward in my channel guide and set the DVR to record.  I was then informed that The Flash would not record due to two other conflicts. I checked what the two conflicting shows  were. NCIS? Nope, not skipping that. Selfie? Sorry, buh-bye. You were cute for a couple of episodes, but we’re done now.

I haven’t looked at the ratings, but I would be willing to bet they dropped when The Flash came on. Let’s look at who Selfie was catering to. The show stars somebody that has been in the last two Star Trek movies and another person who was on Dr. Who. Plus, let’s not forget Karen Gillan was in a little movie this summer called Guardians of the Galaxy, albeit bald and in green skin. Oh, and throw in Harold and Kumar. So who is going to check this show out? Geeks. But when push comes to shove, those geeks are going to pick The Flash over a sitcom still trying to find its way.

I assume someone at ABC knew it catered to geeks and put it on the same night as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But Marvel is on at 9:00, an hour after Selfie was on. Isn’t the spillover effect supposed to go the other way? I could maybe see somebody watching one show and leaving it on the channel, but who turns on a channel because a certain show will be on later that night? Are the execs aware that we have these new-fangled remote controls?

I did end up watching the rest of the episodes online. Like I said, it was nothing spectacular, but  a fun show nonetheless. The interactions between the characters was getting better. One of the last episodes featured Eliza (Karen Gillan) and Charmonique (the receptionist) try to fill out an online dating profile for Henry. They end up setting him up with a roomful of people who look exactly like the two of them. Sure, it’s been done a thousand times, but what sitcom trope hasn’t? At least it wasn’t continuous menage-a-trois jokes from Charlie Sheen.

There were a couple of other sitcoms that debuted last year that had similar dynamics to Selfie. Both had an ostensible star, but featured an ensemble that developed their shticks and interactions as the season went on. The first was Undateable, starring Chris d’Elia, who had previously been the boyfriend on Whitney. The other was Ground Floor, with  John C. McGinley, no relation to Ted McGinley (as far as I know, neither of them have invited me to their family functions).

That’s two Ted McGinley references in one blog post. If I bring up Revenge of the Nerds, do I win a prize?

Interestingly, both Undateable and Ground Floor featured the same female “lead,” an actress named Briga Heelan in a budding relationship with a supporting actor.  Both shows seemed unsure if that particular relationship should be the focus of the show or not. Undateable, in particular, lost her for the second half of the season, presumably because she was filming the other show.  That forced the show  to feature some of the other actors. One of them, Ron Funches (don’t worry, you haven’t heard of him) stole almost every scene he was in. Rory Scovel was quickly becoming the star of Ground Floor’s first season, although I worry his kooky, quirky character is starting to go down the Sheldon/Barney path, becoming way too much of a focus. Of course, I assume the producers would be perfectly fine following in those characters’, and their shows’, footsteps.

The irony, of course, is that both Undateable and Ground Floor got picked up for a second season. Briga Heelan is going to have to hedge her bets for another year. So why did they make it but Selfie did not? The same reason mentioned above – because the television execs realized what they had, or more precisely what they didn’t have, and that it shouldn’t go up against the powerhouses of Fall TV. The execs in these cases also seemed to realize that it is no longer 1995, and there are different ways to market and broadcast a show now. Ground Floor was on TBS. I’m pretty sure getting ten viewers is enough to be profitable on that channel. Undateable was on NBC, but they held it off until summer, when it was not on against anything else. They then ran two episodes a night for six weeks and were done. And it worked.  Not in the November sweeps way, but in the middle-of-June way.

Seriously, had Selfie been moved to the “death valley” of Friday night, it might have been successful. I know my DVR would have followed it. In fact, why do we still run all of our shows between 8:00-11:00 PM? Had they run it at 3:00 AM, I would end up watching it just as close to “live” as I watch anything. But not if it’s opposite NCIS and The Flash. Really, when is TV going to lose the 8:00-11:00 Prime Time model. Just tell us when the show is on and we’ll set our DVRs.  I know, I know. Live audience, ad revenue, Same Day +7, blah, blah, blah. The world is passing you by, better come up with a new business model.

In the end, Selfie did not fit whatever unrealistic expectations ABC had for it, so it was dumped. Was it going to be the next  Seinfeld or Modern Family? Doubtful, but it certainly was more watchable than about ten seasons’ worth of Two and a Half Men. Or it could have been. But now we’ll never know.

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