Facing the Fate of ‘Pushing Daisies’
October 30th, 2008
Last night may have been Pushing Daisies’ last stand. After weeks of dwindling ratings, dangerous for a show that ended its strike-shortened first season already down considerably from its original premiere, ABC made a decision (their hand forced by Obama’s decision not to buy airtime on the network) to air the season’s fifth episode up against the aforementioned Obama infomercial. On network television, your options are simple: Obama or Ned, Olive, Chuck and Emerson; the American Dream vs. a dream-like television series unlike anything else out there.
But until about 12pm EDT today, we won’t know for sure whether or not this matchup will kill or revive the struggling series; and while I’d like to say that there’s great potential for growth, at the same time numerous qualities lay doubt on such a strategy. At the same time, I think that calls for the show’s immediate cancellation seem premature by half: the show has been a success in at least some qualities thus far this season, and the show’s quality remaining high does count for something.
Whether it will be enough to govern the fate of the show, however, remains to be seen: in the meantime, let’s weight the upsides and downsides of the show’s current position.
Say what you will about Pushing Daisies’ struggling numbers, but the show is not holding back ABC’s Wednesday ratings in the only demographic they’ve been consistently winning. The network is a powerhouse with female viewers on the night, with Private Practice airing in the 9pm slot, and Pushing Daisies (with no lead-in) has been soundly defeating Knight Rider in that particular demographic. The networks often send out PR the day after in order to pimp their ratings performance, and Pushing Daisies has been a part of every single one of these press releases in terms of its week-to-week continued besting of Knight Rider in some, if not the main 18-49, demos. If the show was being ignored entirely, I’d be more worries.
Before it even aired, Chuck earned a full season at NBC simply through quality episodes that represent a direction that the network was happy with. In a perfect world, Pushing Daisies would have earned the same: all five episodes to have aired so far this season have been very strong, and have demonstrated good use of the various characters, cliffhanger plotlines, and everything else. Yes, the show still looks very expensive and one wonders to what degree the show is even close to profitable, but from the perspective of narrative dramedy no one could cancel the series if it lived within a vacuum.
In the short term, there are ways that ABC can test out Pushing Daisies in other locations: Eli Stone, currently airing after Dancing with the Stars on Tuesdays at 10, is struggling to retain even half of its lead-in, and trying out Pushing Daisies there could be an option. Of course, canceling one over the other seems unlikely: Stone has ABC-contracted Greg Berlanti (Brothers & Sisters) behind it, so it has a corporate backing that Pushing Daisies doesn’t seem to have considering its promotional problems. Either way, though, ABC does have a manuever it could make to give the show some life.
ABC’s Pilot Season
One of the reasons NBC renewed Chuck so soon was the fact that, unlike the other networks, they more or less didn’t bother with a pilot season this year and focused more on back-door (Knight Rider) or straight to series (Kath & Kim) additions to their lineup. ABC, meanwhile, only ordered Life on Mars (Which was a long-gestating pilot from mid-season last year) and focused their pilot efforts on midseason. The result is that they have multiple shows, including Rob Thomas’ Cupid revival that would play to similar demographics, waiting in the wings for midseason, after Pushing Daisies’ 13-episode order has been burned off.
The Demographics of Obama Night
In terms of this week’s ratings, I’m not sure how much of a boost the show can really get, especially within its key demographics: America’s Next Top Model would still draw away a fair few female viewers, plus Obama is a candidate who crosses gender lines and likely proved a draw for the important demographic viewers. And while it is true that Republicans, or non-voters, or anyone else not interested in Obama’s message may tune in, not everyone is a slave to television like I am: they might have opted not to watch anything at all, or find out what CSI rerun was on SpikeTV.
The Weird Factor
It’s charming, it’s sweet, it’s entertaining…but it’s weird. I watched last week’s episodes with some guys who had never seen the show, and they were all grossed out by the leaking embalming fluid. The show isn’t one that sits well with people who haven’t seen the pilot, who haven’t had time to know these characters, and who don’t understand the reasons people love this show. It’s a show that works best on word of mouth and advice, and a one-off chance encounter with the series while you’re trying to avoid Barack Obama isn’t likely to create the kind of repeat viewership they might be looking for.
Where does this leave us?
It leaves us waiting: speculation that ABC is putting the show up against Obama in an effort to give them justification for its cancelation may be a bit premature, but I wouldn’t put it past the network. Ever since those first episodes came in overbudget, it has seemed like ABC’s love affair with the show has dwindled along with the ratings. No network has successfully launched a sophomore show that got interrupted by the strike other than Gossip Girl, which managed to ascend to a culturel phenomenon before it managed to get decent ratings. This could either drive them to give them another chance, as NBC will do with Chuck, or it might convince them that starting fresh with a new series in the new year is the right strategy.
Regardless, I’ll be back to update this post when the ratings are released – in the meantime, cross your fingers.