August 18, 2003

TC: Tru In Trouble

One of the things that more than a few people asked for in emailed feedback, was the return of commentary and speculation, which they felt the site has been lacking as of late. Which is true, since the launch of the new site it's been more news-based and I haven't commented as much on the spoilers and information that has been coming out.

So I'm going to experiment with some updates that are pure commentary. While I may mention certain facts or spoilers, the main goal is to talk about some thoughts that I might have about a variety of topics.

First up, I wanted to take a closer look at 'Tru Calling'. As I've been following the spoilers and summaries, I've had more than a few concerns about the viability of the show. Given Fox's history of sticking with shows that fail to live up to their expectations, 'Tru Calling' could be in for a rough ride. First, I should say that I'm definitely going to watch the show. While there are problems that I can foresee, this shouldn't be taken as a negative review of the show itself. This is all based on spoilers and summaries, so much will not be known until we actually see it on the screen. Maybe it will come across differently there, than it does on paper.

That being said, there are a few aspects of the show that concern me.

Time Slot: It's not bad enough that the show will be struggling to grab ratings from shows like 'Friends' and 'Survivor', but it's due to be launched during November Sweeps. While 'Survivor' doesn't use stunt-casting to bump viewership for Sweeps, 'Friends' certainly does. Plus, with this being the final season, the chances of this will likely increase rather than decrease. With these two mega-series battling for every viewer they can grab, the other networks are going to struggle to pick up the remaining viewers. 'Tru Calling' is definitely going to be fighting an uphill battle for viewers.

Premise: While certainly unique, the premise itself is not very original. In fact, it borrows from so many shows it's hard to keep track. It seems the show is trying to pull elements from several series. We have the 'Crossing Jordan' / 'CSI' angle, throw in a bit of 'Haunted' / 'Early Edition', add a dash of 'Providence', a spritz of 'Providence', and you've pretty much got a recipe for 'Tru Calling'. In the end, it's a Medical Examiner show with a gimmick. Instead of just figuring out 'whodunit', they add the aspect of 'howtostopit'. But will it be enough of a gimmick to keep the viewers coming back for more?

Story Arcs: Specifically, the lack of one. From the four episodes that I've seen summaries of, there is absolutely no real arc tying them all together. We get little tidbits, like Meredith's drug problem, or Harrison's gambling problem, but they ended up pulling perhaps the most important arc. When they decided to drop the characters of Cameron and Mark Evans from the show, they lost the only real story arc they had. Which of course, was the usual 'love triangle' arc, but at least it was something. Certainly Harrison and Meredith's arcs could be interesting, but only if they surfaced as the show had developed further. This early in the series, it's hard to be sympathetic about characters that we've just met.

The Hook: It all boils down to this, does the series present anything to hook the viewers and make them repeat viewers. In writing, it's always stressed the importance of having a good hook. If you don't capture their interest in the first few paragraphs, you're going to lose a lot of potential readers. The same holds for television, and I think this could be the biggest issue for the show. While it has a good 'hook', the question is if they can build on it. Great, Tru keeps on popping back a day in time to help save lives. But you can only have so many lives rescued, so many little quirky "I'm going to avoid something that happened to me in the first run through the day" scenes, before it gets old. From what I've seen, this happens about halfway through episode three. Buffy had a hook (cheerleader type fights evil in the suburbs), and built on it with the Angel story arc, the 'I just want to be a normal teenager' arc, and so on. They also addressed this in the first few episodes, showing that it wasn't just going to be a 'girl kills vampires' show. In some ways, I get the feeling that this is a show that's got a slight case of multiple-personality disorder. It's not sure what it's supposed to be. Is it a mystery, a crime drama, a science fiction, or a supernatural show?

This doesn't mean that the show is destined to fail, but there are a couple of other things to consider.

Fox has two shows waiting in the wings, 'Still Life' and 'Wonderfalls'. Both were expected to be mid-season replacements, so one would expect production to begin towards the end of this year. But while filming for 'Still Life' has yet to begin, 'Wonderfalls' quietly began filming about the same time as 'Tru Calling'. With three episodes probably already in the can, is Fox positioning for an earlier premiere of this series?

On a good note, Fox did stress during the press tour, that they know both 'Tru Calling' and 'The O.C.' will be up against stiff competition. They say that they will stand behind these shows, essentially giving them time to build up a fan-base. But a fan-base, which is what I think 'Firefly' definitely had, has been no guarantee that Fox will stick with a show.

In an interview that was posted in the Deseret News, written by Scott D. Pierce, Jordan Levin of the WB made statements that they would be more than willing to purchase another Buffy spin-off, and that Joss and Eliza are still interested. So how long will Fox be willing to stick with this show? Especially if it's more than likely a show that they'll be losing money on, versus one that they might make money on. The article also mentions contractual issues being perhaps one of the hurdles that could affect The WB picking up a spin-off. Just speculating for the moment, what if UPN might have had 'first rights of refusal' for any Buffy spin-off that might have been planned for the 2003-2004 season? Might Fox want to keep a spin-off on the back burner for at least one year for this reason? While it's only speculation, it's interesting that they locked both James and Eliza into series for 2003-2004 (not to mention D.B. Woodside).

In the end, the success of 'Tru Calling' is going to depend not only on the ratings, but how the fans take to it. While I can't wait to for the show to hit the airwaves, I do feel that there is going to need a bit more tweaking to turn it into a show that will be able to "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast" "Must See TV".

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