Sunday, May 03, 2009

TV: The Life and Death(?) of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"

It's been a stormy ride for "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," the FOX spinoff of the popular movie franchise. Oh, things started out well enough; the two-hour series premiere on January 13th, 2008 had fairly high ratings, and critical reception was good. It seemed like the show had the kind of creative mojo and acting talent to avoid the "Terminator of the Week" syndrome that many had feared.

Yet now the series is on the brink of death. Most of the trade magazines have concluded that chances for renewal are not good. The show's ratings have sank, consistently, ever since that first broadcast. What happened between then and now? What killed "Terminator"?

There are plenty of excuses unrelated to the show's content. The first season, originally planned for 13 episodes, was cut short at 9 because of the writer's strike (even back then, there was speculation that the show would not return for a second season). Cutting 1/3 of the first season of any show will bring problems, but it was especially damaging to the heavily-serialized plot of "Terminator." The strike-shortened season meant that there was never a critical mass of episodes to gather the fans that would help to ensure long-term survival.

When "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" finally returned in the fall of 2008, its viewing audience had been literally cut in half. The stalwart fans who stayed on were rewarded for their loyalty with a huge two-month winter hiatus that split apart the second season, plus a timeslot shift to Friday night, a sure sign things were heading south. And now FOX will decide the show's fate later this month.

But it's not all the big bad network's fault. Some of this season's episodes have been straight-up awful. The "Sarah in the Desert" subplot in the middle of the season was snooze-inducing, and the introduction of Riley, a romantic interest for John Connor, was met with mixed reviews (I hated the character, personally). Things picked up with the last few episodes of the season, including a cliffhanger finale that saw John stuck in an alternate post-apocalyptic future where he never existed. Still, it was arguably too little, too late.

In the end, whatever the outcome, I think the saga of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" is a huge warning to every TV series creator who dares to serialize their story. The overarching plot you introduce may get chopped to pieces by circumstances beyond your control. Heck, people may not even like your overarching plot.

Here's an elegy for the show, taken from my favorite episode. In this sequence, Sarah Connor is being taken to jail, and a main character is being buried:


At 7:46 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Save TSCC!

At 4:45 AM, Blogger James R. Rummel said...

I wasn't too happy with the character of Riley myself. I found her to be a boring distraction at best, but I wouldn't say that I hated her.

What were your objections to the character?


At 4:31 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

I can't really put my finger on why I disliked Riley so much. I think it might have been when the "Alpine Fields" episode was aired. Lauren Fields, the character in that episode, was tough and charming compared to Riley, who is a basket case. I found myself wondering who I'd hang out with if I were John.

True, working the dependency angle on John is what Riley's there for, but it was like she just ceded control of the whole scheme to Jessie until the last part of the season.


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