Revisiting the shockingly quick demise of Lone Star -- and how it sent Fox reeling
02/14/11 08:50 AM
By ED BARK
While TNT continues debating whether to shoot its Dallas remake in Dallas, it's instructive to revisit what a blow it was to Fox when its modern-day version of Dallas died almost instantly.
The network's shot-in-Dallas Lone Star had a bigger promotional buildup and the most favorable critical reviews of any new fall series. But the piddling audience for its Monday, Sept. 20th premiere led to its cancellation just one episode later. During last month's network TV "press tour" in Pasadena, your friendly content provider decorously asked the network's two top programming executives whether the opening night ratings for Lone Star were "like a punch in the nuts or something."
Pretty much so, yeah.
"We didn't quite know what to think," said entertainment chairman Peter Rice. "And we went online, and it just said, 'Lone Star dead.' "
That drew a laugh. But seriously, "it was a drag," seconded entertainment president Kevin Reilly. "I mean, it was a real bummer . . . We had an unbelievable amount of creativity. We put a lot of marketing behind it. This was not one we were just sort of throwing out there. And it really changed the complexion of our fall. If that show had had enough traction to stay on (the air), it would have changed the complexion. We wouldn't have had as much ratings trouble as we've had on Monday nights. When Lone Star was D.O.A., it was a gaping hole."
Fox immediately plugged in Lie to Me, which wasn't scheduled to return until Nov. 10th -- on Wednesdays. It delivered better ratings than Lone Star. What wouldn't have? But the relocation of Lie to Me prompted another move -- of Human Target from Fridays to Wednesdays. Which led to House reruns filling Friday's 7 p.m. (central) slot as a lead-in to The Good Guys, another made-in-Dallas series that since has been canceled.
Reilly compared the demise of Lone Star to the runaway success of Glee, which also had "inspired creators who you are thrilled to support. And you rally behind them . . . and you're happy to do it. When it works, it energizes everyone. And when it doesn't, it takes a lot of wind out of the sails."
So what does Lone Star's abject failure say about the value of TV critics' reviews? They obviously didn't move the needle in this case.
But Rice said it still matters whether a show is embraced or loathed before America's viewers vote it up or down.
"Anytime you are making a drama, it's important that the first people you show it to are the people that have taste, the people that are discerning," he said by way of bestowing a wet kiss on a ballroom full of TV writers. "When something is challenging like (Lone Star), if they say it's terrible, that's not going to be helpful. So it's important to us, and I think it's important to the viewers. Ultimately, this was an idea that was rejected on its concept, by a broad public when they had other choices."
The virtual still birth of Lone Star won't dissuade Fox from taking chances, Reilly added. "I can tell you one discussion we never had the next day was, 'Well, let's not do that again. Why did we put that on?' We analyzed some of the strategic (scheduling) moves, but never the intent behind it. I don't believe for a second that all of the great shows are on cable. I think it's painting with a roller. And some of that commentary after the fact, I think was not completely fair."
Fox still owns the four unaired episodes of Lone Star. They "may very well end up airing," Reilly said, but with no great expectations.
"A show that had a tremendous amount of marketing and a strong lead-in (from House) didn't pull a whole lot of viewers," Reilly said. "I don't know really know what it's going to do if we throw it on somewhere else."
If Lone Star's remaining episodes remain dead and buried, "I'll get you a discount on the boxed set," he promised.
It's been a rough past year for network TV series made in both North Texas and Austin.
ABC's The Deep End, a legal drama set in L.A. but filmed in the Dallas area, was dropped last February after just a handful of episodes aired.
The aforementioned Lone Star and The Good Guys were both born under bad signs. NBC's Chase, likewise a North Texas production, premiered last fall on Mondays, was switched to Wednesdays in midseason and now has been put on hiatus in favor of the plug-in game show Minute to Win It. So write that one off, too.
In Austin, Friday Night Lights ended production last year after a ratings-challenged, but critically acclaimed five-season run. The city quickly got another network series, ABC's My Generation. But it also went down for the count after just two episodes.
Another network drama series, CBS' Chaos (scheduled to premiere on April 1st), initially looked as though it was going to be filmed in North Texas. But the network and the series' producers instead belatedly decided on Vancouver during the time they waited for an up-or-down vote on a pickup.
"Better than Dallas," co-star Eric Close said during a January interview session for the show.
Close later had a chance to reboot, noting that he met his wife in Dallas and was talking about typography and the show's intent to have its rogue band of CIA agents travel all over the place.
"The last time I looked, I don't believe there's mountains covered in snow (in Dallas)," he said before Flag Pole Hill did its very best earlier this month. "So I think we're really looking for that global scope when we're shooting. That was partly the issue with Dallas."
It also should be noted that TNT has only committed to shooting a pilot for its proposed younger generation Dallas series. Although it's hard to imagine the network not following through with a series commitment after signing Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy to reprise their roles from the original CBS version.
Those were the days when TV series hunkered down and stayed a spell in North Texas, which also became home to CBS' Walker, Texas Ranger and two full seasons of Fox's Prison Break.
Lately that luck has run out, at least from a longevity standpoint. Still, it's better to have loved and lost -- and live to lick those wounds before doggedly trying again.