You know the rest.
So the news is Fox has cancelled Almost Human after just one season. As of this writing, there are forecasts showing a spike in demand for torches and pitchfolks. Two words everyone: Calm down.
The Fox Network, and other broadcast channels, does indeed have a long reputation for not giving attention to well-written science fiction shows. We only need to reference the laundry list of shows on the other online forums (Firefly being at the top of the list). It has also been addressed that television is really becoming more dumbed-down each year with the glut of “reality” TV shows (trust me, you’ll get no argument from me). However, you have to also look at the factors the people running the network contend with.
Back when I was student at UT-Chattanooga, I was a part of the Save Our Sailors Internet Campaign or “Pop Tarts” for those who get the reference. One of our main organizers worked in the business of television and provided us with the basics of how shows are selected, how they stay on the air, given extended life, and so on. The nutshell was more viewership for advertisers = successful programs. The Pop-Tart campaign was successful because of this formula. Today, it would not work given the viewing options we have (Netflix, DVR, Crunchyroll, Hulu, etc.)
As viewership becomes more and more fragmented, it is really hard to determine which shows are successes and which are not. Comedies and dramas can easily adapt (just add sex to everything) but Sci-Fi I believe has a harder road to climb because not only must the viewer be invested in the characters and the storyline, but also the universe the world takes place in. That is not as easy given the 24 hour multitask world we live in today.
It should also be pointed out animation is not immune to this. Young Justice was probably one of the best series in the DC Animation universe. Its second season had such an in-depth story arch that if you missed one episode, you would be completely lost. Truth be told, programmers hate shows like that because they would rather show programs with episodes that can be played out of sequence in an effort to show the ones that will attract the most viewers. This is probably why we see 10 hour marathons of Regular Show or Adventure Time every Saturday afternoon. Broadcasters cater to our current viewing habits (have the TV on while doing 20 other different things), we see 5 – 10 minutes of easy-to-follow programming, followed by lots of commercials, Win-Win.
In reference to the parallels with Firefly, it has been documented on several sites that the episodes were played out of sequence. Unfortunately, that is also nothing new in television. Cartoon Network did the same thing with Young Justice and Nickelodeon with both Avatar series. It seems any product that can outshine the domestic offering tends to get the second to third-tier class treatment. This, despite the fact those shows actually did well in the ratings.
So some may be asking “Well, if Fox was not that gung-ho about taking Almost Human seriously, why would they pick-up the show to begin with?”
Because JJ Abrams stamp was on it. That brand is hot right now and everybody is willing to give anything he produces a shot even if they feel the product may not resonate with their target audience. To be honest, if you look at Fox’s success shows, dramatic and sci-fi shows tend to do the weakest while comedies and animated shows tend to do the strongest. That is not to say there are exceptions: X-Files, Millennium to name a couple. But how well would they do if they started airing today?
Finally, it could just be that show was not very good to begin with in regards to the American public. While franchises like Star Trek are accepted and enjoyed, those took decades to build a level of success from the ground up. Unfortunately, that type of fan build is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Networks want shows that go into the top ten right out of the gate. Because they know if they don’t, they can easily be replaced.
Many years ago, Fox did good by completing the Alien Nation TV show story arch with a series of made-for-TV movies. I remember vividly a scene from one of those movies where Sikes (Gary Graham) is watching the pilot of a new sitcom with his Newcomer girlfriend and five minutes into the program, the president of the network comes on saying “due to the incredible low ratings this show is generating, we are cancelling the rest of the broadcast”. ::Sikes yelling at the TV:: “Could you at LEAST have waited until the first commercial break??”
I actually laughed when I saw that many years ago. Today, I’m left with pause for concern.