ABC Cancels "Life on Mars"

What is it with TV lately?

If you haven't been listening to the Television Zombies podcast, you'd be missing out on some quality debate over the life spans of, what are considered, "cult" TV shows.

Television is undergoing a weird transition where viewers are becoming more liberal with where they view programs and yet the money structure that supports these shows still relies on the numbers of eyes in front of the television when the show airs. What this means is a lot of good programming is being axed because viewers weren't watching it at 8pm on the nose.

That's an oversimplification, obviously. TV ratings have declined since the strike of '07-'08. Shows that were media darlings slipped disastrously and to fill the void networks produced the cheaper and human drama heavy reality shows - even variety and game shows made somewhat of a come back.

But what does this mean for good old fashion hour long dramas? What about sitcoms? Now that we have more choice as to what to watch, networks are being very picky about what they put up and if it doesn't get ridiculously high ratings, the show disappears in a single season, if that. Even shows with big names and major hype aren't safe. My Own Worst Enemy with Christian Slater didn't last 5 episodes. NBC's big expensive Crusoe didn't make it a full series. ABC's Pushing Daisies, arguably one of the most creative shows in the last 10 years, was canceled after two seasons, its last three episodes left unaired. And now Life On Mars is falling victim to the ratings crunch. Oddly enough, it will be allowed to finish its season and wrap up its fledgling storyline, but it's another casualty of an antiquated system.

And why is it antiquated? Digital recording has allowed viewers to tape shows and watch them at will. Network web sites have offered full episodes of shows that just aired. Online movie rentals allow you to stream entire seasons of TV shows. Yet the numbers the networks base the popularity of these shows don't factor these advances in because they aren't as ad revenue based and thus make no money for the network. This is starting to change, but we've lost a lot of good shows and will likely lose more before it's all said and done.

And what replaces these shows? When Life On Mars leaves, something will fill its spot. They'll shuffle the line ups and schedules and I'm sure there will be another Dancing With The Stars to keep us all entertained. We'll have another shallow show about rich people finding love from gold diggers or how a group of people can't find their ass on a map or live together in a disgustingly awesome house. It's pervasive, you can't avoid it and it's truly horrifying to think that the majority of people in the States watch it. People I admire for their taste in literature or film watch American Idol. People who wouldn't be caught dead listening to popular radio watch Survivor.

And why is that? What makes these rubbernecking trainwrecks of shows so popular? Because they are trainwrecks and we can't help watching them. (Well, you can't, I'm prefectedly capable of avoiding them.) But let's make something clear; the shows you see on Discovery Channel, TLC, History Channel, etc. I would not consider Reality TV. I would consider them documentaries or science programming. In fact, those shows SHOULD be called reality TV because they contain information, historical fact, useful scientific principles. An impossibly good looking blonde eating a bug or jumping off a cliff isn't real, it's hyper reality. The only real part of those shows are the people in them an that's debateable.

But the only way we'll get past this is to embrace scripted programming, even if it's one with a laugh track. The only way to tell the networks we're not idiots is to stop watching these shows. If no one tunes in, they can't possibly keep making them. Help me help America's IQ and turn off these shows that celebrate mediocrity and ineptitude. Challenge your mind to follow along with complex stories. And if all else fails, turn it off altogether and find something to read.

Carry on.

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