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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is ABC trying to kill ‘FlashForward’?

Damn, was I pissed when I got to the end of last week’s episode of FlashForward and saw the little notice ABC snuck in there that the show wouldn’t be returning till March. (Sci Fi Wire is mad as hell, too.) I had been figuring, all during the episode, that they were gonna hit us with a “returning in January” thing, since the episode was set close to Christmas, and all along, the unfolding of the story has been closely aligned with the real-world calendar. So it seemed we would have to skip ahead to the new year along with the fictional narrative.

But March? Three months off the air? Who the hell is in charge of things over at ABC? I know everyone’s getting out of the way of the upcoming Vancouver winter Olympics, but that’s just two weeks in February. There’s no reason for a three-month hiatus. No reason at all.
Unless ABC is looking for a reason to cancel the show. Its ratings haven’t been good, and perhaps the network is taking a cue from CBS, which similarly mangled — perhaps deliberately — the critical and fan favorite Jericho three years ago when it tossed the show into a three-month black hole… and then used the resulting drop in ratings when it finally brought the show back as an excuse to cancel it.

I feel like there’s no point in getting involved in a network TV show these days, because it seems as if any show that’s different enough and thinky enough and just plain weird enough to intrigue me is destined for the chopping block. I love how FlashForward is mixing action and mystery with philosophy — how many other shows deal with such heady topics as free will and quantum physics in such entertaining ways? On network TV, only Lost approaches the wicked, sneaky smarts of FlashForward… and in fact, I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen that FlashForward is like Lost, except the whole planet and the entire human race is stuck on the Island.

The premise of the show, in case you haven’t been watching: For two minutes on an October day, everyone on the planet blacked out and got a glimpse of a day six months in the future. Not everyone sees pleasant or expected things, however — our nominal hero, an FBI agent played by Joe Fiennes, is a teetotaling alcoholic who sees himself drinking during his flashforward; his wife (Sonya Walger, aka Penny from Lost) sees herself committing adultery with a man she hadn’t yet met; his partner (John Cho) sees nothing, which probably means he’ll be dead by then; and as the future slowly approaches, his wife’s future lover, a physicist (Jack Davenport), thinks he knows what caused the flashforward: an experiment he and an unexpectedly creepy incarnation of Dominick Monaghan were involved with. The FBI has launched an investigation into the flashforward, see — the event killed millions of people and has traumatized just about everyone else — and much of the evidence they’re following comes from those glimpses of the future. But some people appear to be changing their futures, too, even as others are barreling toward them, so maybe nothing is predestined? And what about the events of six months hence that do seem inevitable that would never have happened at all without the glimpse into the future in the first place? It’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum on a planetary scale… or as if everyone broke the same vase that Neo knocked over in the Oracle’s kitchen after she told him not worry about it.

(Some full episodes are available to watch online at the show’s official site, if you’re interested in catching up.)

I keep meaning to reread the fantastic Robert J. Sawyer novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.] the series is based on. The book is even more philosophical — in it, the flashforward lets everyone see 20 years into their futures, not merely six months, so the pace is slower and leaves more times for pondering. I guess I should be stunned that a book by Sawyer even got to the adapted-for-television stage at all, even if it doesn’t last. But I’m freakin’ furious anyway.

Is ABC trying to kill FlashForward? Or is it already dead and nobody’s told the corpse?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Television networks are run by people who:

    1) Have no concept of continuity or how stories progress;
    2) Want every show they produce to become immediate ratings grabbers;
    3) Have the patience of five-year-olds.

    If I ever get into film/television, I’m starting my own cable channel so I don’t have to deal with them.

  • N2N2

    TV networks are in the advertising business; NOT the entertainment business. We tend to not realize that. If the ratings are down, the advertisers who purchase “time” say that their ads are not reaching the audience as promised and they pay less than the optimal price for that “time.”

    If the revenue received does not exceed the cost spent to make the show at the expected return on investment, the network shareholders cry foul of the Board of Directors who take it to the CEO and down the line to the showrunner. The show gets whacked and an “advertising” company does not care about whether the show was wrapped up; all it knows is “it’s not making money” at the required rate of return on its investment.

    Now you may be tempted to blame it all in the Neilsen ratings – and to a certain extent, it’s true. But it is not true that it is the Neilsen company. It is the advertiser who insist on using this antiquated system which was devised in the 1950’s and does not take into account the 21st century technology. I have to say that I watch FlashForward and from the beginning I have watched on my computer – on my schedule not the networks. I love it for all the reasons you do. But it has become clear to me ever since Jericho was canceled that the families with the Neilsen boxes do not like anything that is “thinky,” as you put it, and that is a guarantee the show will not last.

    So, it is all about the money, not about the entertainment. The networks need to wake up; band together and forumlate a more current, all inclusive system of measuring whether the advertising is reaching the public and force the advertising world to accept it as the “system.” PERIOD. If not, then TV as we know it is dead and gone forever – which might not be a bad thing. Put everything on DVDs or pay per view and pay for what you want to watch and watch when you want to. Sounds good until you realize we’re back to square one – if the revenue brought in does not exceed the cost to produce . . . . .

  • I have to say I agree with everything that everyone has said so far.

    I’d rant about it but frankly I’m exhausted from trying to find good TV and keep following it. I’ve come to the opinion that everyone needs to stop watching TV alltogether for about 5-6 years until the network system completely collapses under the strain of trying to keep afloat on the backs of the talent.

    Once it finally goes away then we can have good entertainment “on demand” via streaming internet feeds.

  • MaryAnn

    TV networks are in the advertising business; NOT the entertainment business. We tend to not realize that.

    We know that perfectly well. It’s the networks that don’t seem to realize it, when they deliberately sabotage a show’s chances to grow an audience.

  • JoshDM

    FlashForward and Fringe have become poor man’s Science Fiction. Not as good as what there could be. Dollhouse tops those two, and Lost trumps them all.

  • Lisa

    it reminds me of that show the Nine – crash bang wallop start and then it’s all about the boring relationships.

    I’ve liked bits of it which gives me hope but what then for season 2 – are they just going to end the year on another flash forward?

    Dominic Monaghan is just cool altho I hated that scene where they played the poker game to decide if they were going to tell the world what they were up to. That’s an offensively stupid storyline.

    plus why do some people remember what they were feeling and some don’t why does John Cho’s girlfriend not remember that she’s at his funeral, not their wedding.

    I’ve liked that they solved some of the mysteries or furthered them but it’s still a bit bla.

    back to your original question – did somebody leave the production team is that why there is a delay?

    maybe it will be a better show when it comes back – so far it’s no Lost.

    I just watched the man in the street episode of Dollhouse though and that was awesome. Clearly the next door neighbour was an active but I loved the way they showed that – it was classic Whedon.

  • Riley

    I gave up on Flash Forward weeks ago. The writing is just awful. The characters are all one dimensional. It’s no wonder that people have stopped watching and ABC is shutting it down, the show is just not good. If they can manage to bring the writing around in this time off, I’ll gladly come back, but I don’t see that happening.

    A few months ago I would have made a bet that no major network would put on a show with scifi themes that is worse than Heroes. I would have lost that bet.

  • Althea

    For a while now I’ve been wondering, “Who benefits?” It’s the question that countless TV detectives have asked, and it usually solves the mystery. MaryAnn, you’re right, the networks don’t seem to realize that they’re sabotaging the very programs that they’ve already sunk millions of dollars into. We know that a lot goes into the creation of a TV show. From the germ of an idea a premise arises and a writer pitches it. A production company, of course, screws it all up, but ultimately a show is born (who knows, it might still be good) and pitched to the network. The network buys it and invests maybe years, and a whole bunch of money, to bring it to the air. Word gets out that the show is coming, and promos are run for months to get as much attention from the public as possible. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people get paid getting this to happen. (I admit I don’t know when the advertisers come into the mix.)

    All this happens, and the show is run for maybe four weeks and yanked. Sometimes it’s gone for good. Sometimes it’s bounced around the schedule. Sometimes it gets “retooled” and bingo, the shark has been jumped.

    So who benefits? A bunch of people have been employed for maybe a couple of years. Actors and crew alike have reputations to manage when they commit to the shows. Money has been spent. Where did it come from? All from the advertisers? Do the advertisers just throw money at these shows the whole time, only to take a loss (and a tax write-off?) at cancellation time?

    I don’t know the answers, but I hope somebody does. It might help to educate us suckers who just want to watch a little entertainment. Maybe learn something. Maybe find out more about the world. Maybe stimulate the imagination.

    Instead of being pissed off.

  • Jason

    I could never get into the show. The logistics really bothered me. Everyone on the planet who was driving would have gotten in an accident (many many serious injuries and fatalities, but a NURSE DRIVES home from work that evening? The kid goes to school the next day? Please. If a show can’t be bothered to do get something basic like this correct then I have no time for the show.

  • Hank Graham

    With all respect to PaulW, he is overestimating network executives: their patience is closer to that of three-year-olds.

    If they’ve put the show on that long a hiatus, yeah, I think they want to kill it.

  • Dr Rocketscience

    io9 ran an interesting analysis of Flash Forward a few days ago. Short version: yes, ABC is killing it slowly because the ratings are poor, and it’s the show’s own fault because it doesn’t really work.

    I remember seeing promos for Flash Forward at the movies over the summer. My wife and I both felt that, while the concept was intriguing, we couldn’t see how it could sustain an on-going series. A book, obviously; a movie or a mini-series, perhaps. But once you get to the point where people were living out their flashes, where does the series go? Another flash?

    I assume everyone on this thread watches the show but SPOILER ALERT anyway.

    As a non-watcher, I was most amused how, after less than 13 episodes, the show had already neutered it’s premise. I refer to the character who kills himself in violation of his vision. I mean, you can mine drama out of characters trying to avoid predestination, if they (and the audience) don’t know if it will work. But now the audience (I’m not sure about the characters) knows that the flashes are not predestined and unavoidable. So where’s the drama? Take the wife, for example. If she makes an effort to avoid the man in her vision once she meets him, the audience knows that will work. If the writers then decide to force her character to sleep with the guy, right on the 6 month schedule, the audience will know that the writers are contriving that situation, and will be rightfully annoyed. Ultimately, the show had to make a decision. But the smart choice would have been to put it off as long as possible. Because once the answer is clear, the dramatic potential tanks, and the series is basically done.

  • Dr Rocketscience

    If a show can’t be bothered to do get something basic like this correct then I have no time for the show.

    I’m reminded of The World’s Worst Series of Books. :)

  • I really really really really wanted to like Flashforward, but I didn’t. I just didn’t care for Fiennes’ character or that of the wife, they just annoyed the crap out of me. Loved John Cho, though – who knew Harold & Kumar would lead to this and the White House?

    When you get the chance, check out Paradox on the BBC, it’s similar to FlashForward (and the scientist looks like a combination of Robert Downey,jr, and Billy Boyd, but with a Scottish accent – it’s a little creepy) but not based on a novel, I don’t think.

  • Whoops, meant Dominic Monaghan, not Billy Boyd…

  • Leslie Carr

    I have been enjoying FlashForward – but I’ve only got to episode 6. I recognise its weaknesses, but I stick with it because it’s still entertaining me whereas I tired of Heroes after two seasons and Lost after one episode**.

    Like MAJ, I’m intrigued by some of the philosophy. In particular, I love the fact that Joe Fiennes KNEW that fessing up to being drunk would ruin his marriage even though he didn’t see it in his flashforward. In other words, we all predict the future all the time, without any sci-fi jiggery-pokery. There’s also an element that’s close to the current Dr Who storyline – stuff the rules, I’m going to change the timelines! And I can’t recall a story before in which everyone has a glimpse of the future, it’s usually just a select few who have to come to terms with that knowledge. So there are aspects of this story that seem fresh to me and keep me intrigued.

    ** I’m embarrassed to admit it, but despite three attempts I’ve never even made it all the way through the pilot of BSG before falling asleep.

  • Lisa

    the mini series is a bit boring but you should maybe just watch the first episode that’s quite fast paced and adrenalised whereas the pilot’s a bit snoresville

  • Pollas

    Network television sucks. Chimpanzees could do a better job than network execs.

    I gave up on watching new shows on the networks last season. Too many new shows I’ve liked over the years have been cancelled before the season was halfway through. One can only take so much.

  • Paul

    But why would the network need the pretense? Why would they need to sneak up behind their own show and stab it in the back when all they have to do is just yank it?

  • Leslie Carr

    Are US shows cancelled because their seasons are so long? Or are the seasons so long so that the successful ones can recoup enough money to offset the aborted ones?

    And how much does a season cost to make? Are two or three episodes the same cost as a movie because they last as long? Or are twenty episodes of a new show just as cheap to make as six?

  • Mo

    What?
    What what?
    What what what?

    But… but it was just getting really good!

    Sorry, I didn’t notice the return date before. In shock. I know I shouldn’t be. But I thought there was another ep this week. Grr.

    If they cancel this before we find out what happens, I doubt I’ll ever watch another new tv show again until it’s already all aired. What’s the point. Once Lost is gone I won’t really even have a reason to pay for cable anymore. Screw HD… that’s what blueray is for and I don’t have to wait for 3 months to watch a DVD I own.

    Let the advertisers numbercruch that. No eyeballs at all. And me unreachable. Haha.

  • I’m a fan of FlashForward since they’re trying to grapple with some intriguing issues of fate, free will, physics and the future (like my alliteration?). Too bad if it gets cancelled, since I want to see if my prediction about the show comes true: that they *won’t* bring up the widely accepted (among physicists) view of four dimensional spacetime in which all events, past, present and future simply *are*. According to this “block universe” view, the future *is* fixed, it’s out there, it *exists*. But this doesn’t mean you can’t falsify your flashforward, since if you do, *that’s* what the future held. So the future can’t be changed, even though we contribute to it. This view of course is too weird to bring to public attention, even though it’s mainstream physics, plus it denies free will, so my prediction is that FF won’t mention it. But I hope I’m wrong.

    For a discussion of all this, see “Scripting the Future: Spacetime and the Nature of Control” at http://www.naturalism.org/spacetime.htm Enjoy!

  • Paul

    @Tom Clark: Thanks for that link. I found browsing their site interesting. Turns out I”m already almost one of the fold.

    As for this TV show, I’m not keen on shows that proceed to deny their own premise. Maybe they just screwed up.

  • tim

    I liked the previews… but the show sucked. It suggested this huge conumdrum about time and a conspiracy… it delivered a soap opera in sci fi clothing.

    How can you yank the plug on an already defunct television show?

    Maybe that is why it is on hiatus.. it will fill the timeslot for guiding light or as the world turns!!

    who cares!!

    To top it all off… Mininova went ‘legal’ and I can’t download off the air ‘free’ uk episodes of doctor who anymore!!

    Oops.. Sorry. To top it all off.. I bought a windows 7 PC, and the only problem I have is the damn hauppage usb tuner ($50 bucks) overheats and I’m writing this because the rerun of pass time on speed keeps locking up.

    Maybe I should just return it, and buy season tickets to the KC Chiefs. Oh… Nothing to watch there either.

    Congrats to anyone who finds a series on TV that actually entertains!

    Sorry about the rant, this tuner card is pissing me off. Anyone got a box fan for sale? It might stay cool enough to work through the weather forecast on the late news.

  • Althea

    For Leslie Carr: I gather you’re British (or at least referring to British TV.) It’s just a cultural thing. I am no expert on TV history, but here’s what I think happened:

    Way back in the depths of TV time, in America, somebody conceived the idea of an ongoing series. So a show was expected to just keep on recurring week after week. At some point in the 50s it became clear that 52 new shows each year weren’t necessary, and the rerun was invented. Likewise, somebody realized that people weren’t going to watch as much TV during the summer – same reason as kids getting off school, families going on vacation, etc. So the TV season was born, and the episode limits were established.

    Back then shows weren’t cancelled abruptly. All the episodes were filmed and run through whole season regardless of how it was doing. There weren’t unlimited channels and unlimited choices of what to watch, so whatever the network put on, we’d watch. Even if the show stunk. If the numbers were bad enough I guess the producers would be looking for a new show, but for the most part they waited to grab viewers with each new season in September. The big hits continued, the others quietly disappeared. There weren’t any shows that had continuity issues – all the episodes were stand-alone – so there was never a question of having a wrap-up of the story. (All this has changed so radically in the past few years that it’s now a hot topic, hence these discussions.)

    Across the pond, however, the idea of the eternal series didn’t develop the same way. I suspect that it had something to do with the availability of air time. In America the broadcast day went from something like 6am to midnight for many years, and gradually lengthened to 24 hours (in the 70s, was it? anybody know?) But I’m vaguely aware that the industry took longer to establish, and the broadcast day was very much abbreviated overseas, and stayed that way even longer. This suggests that TV series had a much harder time getting on the air and staying on the air, and therefore the 6-episode season became the norm*.

    So, no, the length of the season has nothing to do with the question of why shows are cancelled prematurely, or the pros and cons of the monetary investment. As far as how much a show costs to make per episode, you can just assume it’s a s**tload of money that doesn’t really correspond with anything. A half-hour sitcom’s going to be cheaper than an hour drama – unless it’s a hit and the stars demand a double s**tload of money now. A cop show or science fiction, where they do a lot of special FX or blow stuff up, will cost a lot more than the hour drama – unless it’s a hit and the stars… You see where this is going.

    But what gets to me is the s**tload of money that the networks sink into the high-dollar shows is apparently thrown right out the window when they’re suddenly cancelled. Hence my curiosity about who’s benefiting.

    Britain’s shows used to depend far less on FX, but I’m under the impression that it’s changed lately, judging by Dr Who and Torchwood. I think they do still depend far less on star power.

    Cheers!

    *It’s actually been hard for people here to grasp that this was the case, when so many “Britcoms” ran for so many years and have been appearing on our Public Television stations weekly (ad nauseum in some cases), Americans assume that they ran what we think of as full seasons.

  • Knightgee

    This show is rather boring and uninteresting. I can’t honestly say I’d blame ABC if they were trying to kill it and from what I hear, they really won’t have to, it’s ratings indicate it’s already bleeding on the floor, waiting for someone to put it out of it’s misery.

  • JoshDM

    The only shows I’m enjoying so far this season are ”Castle” (sometimes hit or miss), ”Modern Family” and ”Cougar Town” (yes, I like mean comedies and I do find these fun), and ”Venture Bros.”

    I was bored by this week’s ”The Closer”.

  • Christina

    I sure tried to watch this when it first came on, but… well, all I can say is “all of the above.” This Fienne is the least appealing of the two, and quite frankly, I find SURVIVOR more interesting. At least there you have some unanticipated twists. I keep trying to stop watching SURVIVOR, but I’m an anthropologist, I can’t help myself.

    I actually thought all along that the network had no faith in FLASHFORWARD, since they put it up against one of the most popular shows on broadcast. That’s the kiss of death for any new show.

    And having spent 10 years in television (network level), I can tell you with authority that no show goes on the air on a network unless there’s already a sponsor lined up and signed up. No way no how. Advertising is where the money is, babies, and money talks. In fact, often a sponsor will come to the network (or all of them in sequence), shopping for a show that fits their product. “I need something that will attract woman 18 – 49,” they say… and out pops MEDIUM or GHOST WHISPERER (excuse me while I projectile vomit for a minute). And THAT, my friends, is how what you see on television gets there. Not on the merits, but on the bucks.

  • RogerBW

    I gave up on FlashForward after the first few episodes. A continuing plot has to continue, and this felt as though it were turning into just another Alias/Lost clone, with the addition of complications as a substitute for actual plot development. Couldn’t get behind any of the characters, either, which didn’t help.

    But I don’t think a gap is a sign of wanting to kill a show – more a very slow realisation that the concept of a “season” has become entirely obsolete, and that people watch TV whenever they feel like it. The real money for a show with a continuing plot like this will be on DVD and download sales, not from advertising on the initial broadcast.

    Maybe I’m being over-optimistic, but I see television advertisers becoming less important as more and more people notice the very loose correlation that ratings bear to reality. (In fact I see the embedding of advertising – as for Avatar on last week’s Bones – as a good sign, in that this is something which will be an ongoing advertisement in all media – when someone buys the season boxed set of Bones in a few months’ time, they’ll see the advert and maybe buy the Avatar DVD.)

  • Is ABC trying to kill ‘FlashForward’?

    No, because killing promising sci-fi programs is Fox’s job…

    If I ever get into film/television, I’m starting my own cable channel so I don’t have to deal with them.

    You’d probably have to be twice as rich as Charles Foster Kane to be able to afford it but if you can pull it off, good on you.

    For a while now I’ve been wondering, “Who benefits?”

    The producers of reality shows?

    I just watched the man in the street episode of Dollhouse though and that was awesome. Clearly the next door neighbour was an active but I loved the way they showed that – it was classic Whedon.

    That episode almost seems like old news by now. Wait til you get to the end of the first season.

    That said, I’d appreciate a fan of the current season giving me a reason why I shouldn’t wait until the second season comes out on DVD to start catching up. Or at least one that doesn’t involve a scantily clad Eliza Dushku.

  • There’s also an element that’s close to the current Dr Who storyline – stuff the rules, I’m going to change the timelines! And I can’t recall a story before in which everyone has a glimpse of the future, it’s usually just a select few who have to come to terms with that knowledge.

    Actually if there’s one thing that the last two seasons of Heroes were able to accomplish, it was to kill any remaining enthusiasm I might have once had for such a story.

    And speaking of the current Dr. Who storyline, when are we going to see MaryAnn’s review of the latest episode? I’m sorry, but any comments she might have made about it on Twitter don’t really count in my book. I insist on the complete Flick Filosopher experience when I read her reviews, not Flick Chick Lite. :-)

  • JoshDM

    @Tonio

    There’s no reason to catch up on Dollhouse now till it comes out on DVD since they probably won’t play the earlier episodes of the season and your viewership won’t help the ratings since it’s already been put into the canceled box by FOX.

  • Jolly

    But what gets to me is the s**tload of money that the networks sink into the high-dollar shows is apparently thrown right out the window when they’re suddenly cancelled. Hence my curiosity about who’s benefiting.

    Freshman economics courses generally teach that sunk costs should be ignored. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep running a show if your revenues don’t even cover your ongoing production costs. Better to pull the plug than incur further losses, if the prospects for turning things around are negligible.

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