At an appearance at the Television Critics Association Press Tour this week, NBC's Angela Bromstad said that Kings failed because it was "too highbrow and sophisticated" to sell to their audience. But is that the show's fault, or the network's?
Talking about the failure of Kings on the network, president of prime time entertainment Bromstad told the audience,
I think that it was an amazingly big swing and a great production, and Michael Green is a phenomenal writer... I think our challenge now-and hopefully what you see with the new shows is in a really crowded marketplace-you have to sell something. People want to know what something's about. That was a very complex idea. It was a show that was originally developed when I was there before [with] Laura Lancaster. We thought it was too highbrow and sophisticated to sell in a 30-second spot. It doesn't mean we're not looking for big ideas, but they have to be big ideas an audience can grab onto and relate to.
Maybe it's just me, but there seem to be a lot of things that seem wrong with that quote (Kings was "too highbrow and sophisticated" to sell in 30 seconds? Really? Don't get me wrong, I think that it was a wonderful show, intelligent and, yes, sophisticated, but at the same time, it could easily have been sold on the family drama aspects, the religious/spiritual aspects or even the wartime political aspects - the fact is that NBC didn't do any of these; saying that it was too hard without even trying sounds like false justification after the fact), but the most worrying is the message it seems to send that NBC has given up on programming that doesn't appeal to the lowest common denominator, and that because of that, SF is in trouble on the network.
Looking at the shows on offer from that network, there's some evidence to support that theory. Heroes and Chuck - as much as I like them both (And I genuinely do like Heroes, despite the snark) - are both firmly in the populist category, far from the sometimes obtuse Lost or willfully discordant Dollhouse, for one thing, and also tend to stay away from the occasional uncomfortable questions offered by the otherwise-cuddly Fringe; the danger is never too real (whether in terms of tension or scale), the status quo always within one reset. That shouldn't necessarily be a surprise; NBC drama in general is softer and more comforting than what you'd see on Fox, after all, and the network has already taken enough hits in terms of attempts at SF edginess - even if the results were Bionic Woman and My Own Worst Enemy, in addition to Kings - that you could see why they'd want to turn away from the idea.
(It's strange that a network that can produce - and support, despite weaker ratings than expected at launch - shows like 30Rock and The Office is so resistant to doing the same thing to non-comedy shows that are equally less-likely to stick to stereotypes and expectations.)
Additionally, NBC has given up the 10pm slot by stripping Jay Leno's new show across the week at that time, surrendering what used to be their time slot for high profile serious drama. It's the time slot that, ideally, Kings would've been in, a sign that the show had more to it than the obscure advertisements that NBC managed to produce for it after being confounded by how highbrow and sophisticated it ended up being, but it's hard to stifle the thought that perhaps the Sunday time slot it started with was a sign that the show was already being dumped as a result of confusion over what to do with it.
All of this makes me concerned for Day One, Jesse Alexander's new series launching next year. Closer in tone to Lost than Heroes, and asking more of the viewer than an episode of Law & Order, Day One is the kind of smart, engaging show that Kings was... and, worryingly, Bromstad is already making comments about a willingness to consider the show a mini-event, as opposed to an ongoing series. To be fair, she's made these comments before, and Alexander has already responded by pointing out that "[i]f the audience is there, we'll stay on the air," but it's bad buzz that the show doesn't need before it's made it to air.
That said, Day One has a lot of things going for it that Kings didn't: A defining opening event, for one, giving the show a "what if?" hook that can be summed up in one line, as opposed to Kings' alternate world scenario. The potential for more crowd-pleasing action scenes than Kings offered, for another. And - currently, at least - a better time slot and the backing of a network that should know better than to move new series two weeks into their run because they're worried that ratings are all. Day One has the potential to be a great series in the same way that Lost is, or Battlestar Galactica was; I just hope that it's allowed to fulfill it.