Save this Premise?: The Premature Campaign to Save Lone Star
September 25th, 2010
When I realized that there was an online campaign to save Lone Star, I had two thoughts.
First of all, I was bolstered: rallying around Kyle Killen’s inspired support of the series, journalists and fans began to voice their support with Twitter hashtags and Facebook campaigns, and as someone who saw promise in the series I was pleased to see the show getting attention.
However, I was also struck by the fact that people are not really campaigning to save Lone Star. The majority are campaigning to save the idea of Lone Star, the notion that complex drama series not about policemen or lawyers have a place within the context of network television.
While I think this is a battle worth fighting, and I certainly am in support of the series continuing (despite my concerns over its longevity), I have some serious concerns about how this campaign relates to the text itself. When we have seen only a single episode, and when there were legitimate concerns of where the series goes from here, is this metric level of internet-related hype surrounding the series not simply creating expectations that the episode will need to live up to? Does this level of support not seem premature for a show that hasn’t even become a show yet?
The idea of a fan campaign is that people with knowledge about the text involved inform those who lack that knowledge about why they should be watching. It’s more or less the same principle as television criticism, but expanded to a wider audience and with the element of “peer review” as opposed to authoritative analysis. However, generally speaking these fans have an intense knowledge of the text: they know the characters, or the storylines, or something about the text which new viewers might not be able to understand.
In the case of Lone Star, what do “fans” – if people can even be fans of something they have only seen once, an open question to which I have no answer – know about the show which wouldn’t be available to someone with access to Google? Or someone who reads a review (or a recap) of the pilot? The campaign is wholly driven by “Lone Star has a great pilot,” but can this extend into “Lone Star is a great show” when we have no way of knowing if this is actually true?
I don’t want to seem like too much of a cynic, as my issues go beyond my personal concerns over the series’ future. More specifically, I wonder if this isn’t creating expectations that Lone Star will be unable to live up to. If anything, we already saw some backlash with the pilot, as the effusive critical praise left many viewers confused (this is from speaking to people personally). I think it would be fair to say that many critics responded so strongly to the series because it was the best among a weak crop of new series, and because it represented one of the only examples of network risk-taking for them to signal as some sign of hope. I personally felt the show lived up to enough of that potential for me to get behind it, but I do think that the push from critics might have actually created anticipation which obfuscated some of the more practical concerns with the series.
And while I want people to be able to judge the show for themselves, and thus would encourage them to watch it, I worry that this sort of campaign actually kills any chance that viewers will be able to judge the show on its own merits. The more we defend the series and encourage people to watch it in order to save the future of (relatively) complex network television, the more that people go into the series expecting something that the series might not actually be. While this kind of campaign could get the show some sort of sampling (although not likely enough to keep the show from getting pulled off the air, barring Killen getting his miracle), is this really how you develop long-term viewership patterns? By hyping the pilot out of proportion, with the same type of enthusiasm with which many would hype Breaking Bad or Mad Men, it could actually endanger the sort of engagement that the series is fighting for.
Yes, the point is likely moot: what does it matter that fan activity could create false expectations for new viewers if the show is not going to gain new viewers? However, considering that the industry is suggesting that Lone Star represents larger trends within the industry, I think the campaign speaks to how defensive we have become of risk-taking in television. Regardless of Lone Star’s actual quality (which I would defend against the skeptics, for the record), the show has taken on a larger role which inspires commitment that may not be supported by the text itself.
I look forward to Monday’s episode of Lone Star, and will also get the chance (even if the rest of American does not) to see the third episode and take part in a Q&A with Killen – this is the kind of show that I am curious to see develop, and that I will continue covering. However, I am not quite so interested in actively taking part in the campaign because I don’t feel that I can advocate saving a show that hasn’t actually become a show yet.
I may be singing a different tune next week, but until that point I’m on Team “Watch Lone Star and see if you like it,” not Team “Save Lone Star because it is the future of television.”