Friday, November 19, 2010

The Netjumper's Curse

When first Medium’s star, Patricia Arquette, and then its executive producer, Glenn Gordon Caron, confirmed this week that CBS has indeed cancelled the Friday night drama, it was one more example of what I like to call “The Netjumper’s Curse.”

After spending its first five years over on the Peacock network, Arquette’s character, psychic Allison Dubois, had hoped to foresee a long and profitable future at the Eye, whose in-house studio also produces the show; alas, after one full season and this second, abbreviated 13-ep year, it’s all over.

The pattern is nothing new, because for almost as long as there have been TV networks, there have been TV shows which have jumped among them. So while one of the medium’s earliest hits, The Goldbergs, may have premiered in 1949 on CBS, after a couple of seasons, Gertrude Berg’s title character Molly was waving “Yoo hoo” out of a window at NBC, and later at the era’s third network, Dumont.

It may seem that Father Knows Best that a series can find new life just by switching networks, as Robert Young’s wholesome ‘50s sitcom did three times in the course of its run, landing on CBS twice. And My Three Sons played for so long – on both ABC and CBS – that the show eventually had to augment its aging cast with an extra kid named Ernie, just to keep the title making sense.

But since then, the benefits of “netjumping” have become much less clear. Many shows swapping spots on the dial have managed to eke out only one more year before succumbing to the TV fates. Looking back, some, like ABC’s long-running TGIF sitcoms Family Matters and Step By Step, had probably already run out of steam before making that one last leap. Even a network-leaping Wonder Woman couldn’t conquer that one indomitable small screen foe: early cancellation.

In TV’s most recent, and most famous case of successful netjumping, in 1996 JAG motored on over after just one season on NBC to CBS, where, with a change in cast and story focus, it dominated the ratings for nine more years. Since then, we’ve had Scrubs die on the operating table in its sole season on ABC, and who can forget the middling post-jump success of Grounded for Life? (Answer: everyone.) That’s not to say that I want to discourage networks from salvaging each other’s unappreciated treasures. Let’s just hope we don’t have to worry about it, because here’s hoping that AMC will finally nut up and renew Mad Men. And in the meanwhile, let’s pour ourselves a good, stiff drink.

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