March 15th, 2009
The reasons for Kings’ failure to garner anything above a downright abysmal debut on Sunday night are a literal smorgasbord of criteria. Originally planned as a midseason replacement for ER before that show has its run extended when its ratings stabilized early in the season, Kings instead gets a mid-season launch at the worst possible time. Viewers haven’t taken to any of NBC’s new shows, and even its returning shows are struggling to stay afloat, so there’s no “What’s on NBC tonight?” to drive people to a new series. Airing on Sundays without a lead-in is yet another punishment, but unlike a show like Dollhouse, which can count on some substantial Friday evening DVR use, one doesn’t feel like Sunday night is bound to get the same level of uptick. And with Jay Leno set to take over five hours of primetime, the chances of the show garnering strong enough ratings to get itself a second season were slim to none even before the rather embarassing numbers came in.
But let’s throw that out the window for a moment and consider that, while up until last evening this was the only context for Kings in my mind, giving the show’s pilot a chance creates a substantially different reaction. While at its core the show emerges as a sort of monarchical soap opera, there is something in the show’s setting and its subtle compexities which gives it an air of something deserving of more than four million viewers, or at the very least a spot on a network where four million viewers would be considered a success. Led by Ian McShane, the cast is up to the challenge of getting through a lot of exposition in these two hours, setting the stage for an epic war that seems more than vaguely familiar the more we go along, but with more than enough shades of grey in characters’ motivations to create the kind of volatile instability that could sustain an audience.
Unfortunately, it’s an audience that didn’t even show up the first time around.