The Scott Bakula Effect or The Modern Day TV Witch Hunt
Let’s take a trip into the past. The date is March 26, 1989. I was 11 years old, and staying up past my bedtime to watch TV for the first timethat I could remember. And it was on that date that I first saw the TV show that would inform so many of my decisions as far as pop culture is concerned. That show wasone of the greatest cult sci-fi shows of the late 80’s/early ’90’s, Quantum Leap. It’s still my favorite sci-fi show to this day.
Twenty minutes into the first episode I was hooked. It was about time travel, and a man’s quest to get back to his own time while fixing other people’s lives along the way. I still think that if you mention the name of Scott Bakula’s character, Dr. Sam Beckett, in a room of men in their early 30s, at least half the room will know what you’re talking about without any further context.
I absolutely loved Quantum Leap. I remember arguing repeatedly to my mother that the show was actually educational, anything to be able to stay up til 10 p.m., to see if that week was the week that Sam finally made it back to his own time, and his wife.
I think the thing I loved most was that Bakula played Beckett as an everyman, even though he was a supergenius who invented a time machine. The episodes where Sam travelled into his own past were absolutely heart wrenching, like the one where he did make it home for a short time, or the one where he inhabited his younger self, and tried to stop his older brother from going to the Vietnam War, knowing he would get killed there. I honestly learned more about history from that show than anything I learned in school at that age.
Quantum Leap was like a sci-fi gateway drug for me. QL led to Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the Trek Universe in general, which led to the X-Files, and Babylon 5, and Heroes, and Lost and many other things in between, along with a shitload of books and movies.. When Bakula was announced in the role of Captain Jonathan Archer, the captain of the fifth Star Trek series, Enterprse, I felt like I had come full circle as a nerd.
Quantum Leap aired 97 episodes over five years, and ended on May 4th, 1993. The show was always challenged in the ratings, and dodged cancellation several times. The last episode intimated that God was responsible for Sam’s leaps. When the show ended with the onscreen text “Dr. Beckett never returned home,” I was devastated.
The larger point of this massive setup is that in today’s TV world, QL would have been cancelled after four airings, not ninety-seven. It seems now that TV execs expect every show to be the highest rated show in America immediately, and rarely are shows given time to build audiences. Anything that doesn’t pull massive ratings within two weeks is branded a failure. Any low rated show that survies initial difficulty continues with the constant threat of cancellation over it’s head. Such is the case of my favorite show currently on TV, NBC’s Chuck. Chuck is in it’s fourth season, and every season season has ended with “Chuck is cancelled! Wait, no it isn’t.” Maybe the ratings are low because the faithful audience doesn’t trust that the show is going to on every week. Idiots.
This is probably because of how expensive TV production has become, but it blows my mind that two new shows this year (Fox’s “Lone Star” and ABC’s “My Generation”) were the subject of massive publicity campaigns and each had the plug pulled after two airings.
I guess my point is any creative output like this needs time to develop. By cutting things off at the knees so quickly, networks may be denying themselves future dedicated viewers without knowing it. Give your investments time, folks.
Here are some thoughts on some of the new shows I’ve been watching, and I leave the comments section open to readers with criticisms or suggestions of other things I should be trying out.
Mike and Molly: I want to hate this, since all it really is is jokes aimed at torturing overweight people. But the two leads (Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy) are so damn likeable, that I can’t help but enjoy it.
The Event: A blatant attempt to be the next Lost, too early to say if it will succeed, but has been successful in that it has given the viewers more straightorward information in two shows than Lost did in all of six years. A special eff you to the creators of Lost, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, for guaranteeing halfway through Lost’s run that the island was not Hell or Purgatory, then in the last episode, the island was revealed to be….Purgatory. Nice job. I still love you for the new Star Trek movie, though.
Hawaii Five-O: Straightforward action crack. I know it’s dumb, the people making it know it’s dumb, but I still love it. I’m aware this makes me a hypocrite.
No Ordinary Family: a Disney-fied knockoff of Heroes or the Incredibles. Incredibly lame.
The Defenders: Entertaining as you’re watching it, but really forgettable.
Undercovers: A spy show, with the twist that the spies are a married couple. I love spy stuff, but the banter gets old fast.
Outlaw: Jimmy Smits plays a Supreme Court justice who steps down from the bench to take the cases other lawyers won’t. Perfectly servicable until you realize no Supreme Court Justice would actually do this under any circumstances, then the premise falls apart. As I write this, NBC has suspended production of this show with eight episodes completed. I’dsay this is the next show to get the ax.