Thank You ABC

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I find it ironic that on the same night that ABC is about to air a White House exclusive promo, something which I think borders on a wrong-headed move (understandable, predictable, but still wrong-headed), I am about to praise them for something completely different.

The fact that I am about to praise ABC is surprising for another reason, namely that I think we’re down to watching only one show on a regular basis on that network: Lost. I’ll come back to Lost later on, even though I’ve written about it separately in the past.

Last season (shortened by the brilliant Writers Strike) we watched two additional shows religiously on ABC: Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies. We watched both religiously this season as well, until they were both unceremoniously dumped, mid-season (along with Dirty Sexy Money, which we’ve never seen).

We both loved Eli Stone (though it took Lois three episodes to come to that, while I loved it from the first scene). We looked forward to every new episode, and were never disappointed.

I liked Pushing Daisies way more than Lois did, and I’m thankful that she humored me and didn’t make me feel guilty about wasting her time when I eagerly watched it each week. The cartoonish colors were brilliant and lush (solidifying the fantasy feel of the show), and the dialogue had cracker-jack fast quips that always had me in stitches. The writing was in the style of the West Wing and Studio 60 (no wonder Kristin Chenoweth signed up).

I wasn’t surprised that Pushing Daisies was canceled. I was surprised that Eli Stone was. I was shocked that both were canceled without warning, mid-season. Both were serials where important plot-lines unfolded each week (as opposed to episodic shows, like Law and Order).

At best, you’re leaving extremely loyal viewers with a dangling, highly unsatisfying ending. At worst, you’re cutting off a promising show because it didn’t perform quickly enough, which could be short-sighted, given the rough start each show had during the previous Writers Strike shortened season.

I totally get that it’s a business, and they have the right and the experience to do exactly what they did. I also get that none of the three shows that they canceled were topping the charts. I also know that ABC wasn’t promoting the shows all that hard either, and certainly didn’t give them a chance to grow a base. But, again, it’s their decision.

So, after that long-winded (typical) introduction, why I am thanking and praising ABC today?

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Pushing Daisies was set to record an episode on my DVR (from my season pass) on a Saturday! I hadn’t seen a single commercial announcing its comeback, nor seen anything online either, so I assumed that they were running repeats (after all, none of the networks are noted for airing first-run shows on Saturday any longer). Stupidly, I deleted the recording from the queue!

Yesterday, Lois was reading a magazine, and she said to me “Did you know that last week they aired the Series Finale of Pushing Daisies on TV?” Oops! I logged on to ABC and saw that not only was the finale available, it was the third (and last) new episode since the series was canceled.

So, I was sort-of glad I had deleted the recording on the DVR, because I would watched it without knowing that there were two additional episodes leading up to it.

In the unbelievably typical whacky world of TV networks foray into online streaming, only the last two episodes were available on ABC. The first of the trilogy was already gone from their site. I was able to find it instantly on another site, in poorer quality, but with zero commercials.

After watching that episode, we watched the last two on ABC, in 720p HD. The quality was awesome. I’ve mentioned in the past that Lois is rabid about avoiding commercials. Even she didn’t complain about the maximum of one 30-second commercial in each break. ABC is notorious for inserting more commercial breaks into their online programming than the other networks (Hulu, which features both NBC and Fox, shows dramatically fewer commercials per show).

Even so, I was glad to watch the commercials, because ABC was delivering value to me, and this was my desired form of payment. That made it all the more bizarre that they removed the first of the episodes. Given the choice, I would have gladly watched commercials for that one as well, but instead, they drove me to another site where they derived zero revenue from me, instead of the few pennies they otherwise would have earned.

However, here’s the kicker to the story. By getting me to visit ABC at all (in this case through the magazine article), I noticed that they were offering a streaming episode of Eli Stone that was new as well! It turns out that this is the first of the final four episodes of that show. We watched that too, and loved the episode, and can see that they too will wrap up the series to our satisfaction, now that they have the chance to do so.

Hadar, is there a point to all of this ranting? Yes, there is. First, this took nearly zero effort on the part of ABC, as the shows were already shot and in the can (as they say). Putting them online is a matter of decision making, not really a matter of scheduling them for broadcast where ratings and revenue come into play.

But, ABC didn’t really make money off of you Hadar (you say). Perhaps, but not necessarily true! First, for Eli Stone, since there are three episodes left, I have now set my DVR to tape them on TV. 70% of Americans still don’t have a DVR, so there will be plenty of people watching Eli Stone (Saturday night at 10pm!) with ABC hopefully making more money than they do with normal filler programming on that night.

As for Pushing Daisies, both Lois and I found the wrap-up of the series satisfying. Lois turned to me after the finale and said “You should buy the DVD of this season”. I said “You don’t even like the show!”. She said “I really liked the way they ended it, and I wouldn’t mind owning it!”. So, if we decide to, we’ll be buying both seasons (to have all of the episodes). I can guarantee that we would never have purchased either season the way it was previously ended.

I said I would come back to Lost, so here goes. Lois and I never watched Lost when it first came out. We weren’t even tempted. After the second season, David and Wes bought us a gift of the first two seasons DVDs. We got hooked. We bought Season Three on DVD the second it was available. We watched Season Four on TV, but also bought two copies of the DVDs when the season was over, one for us, and one for David. We’ll buy Season Five as well, and Season Six next year.

The point is, fans can be created after the fact with all of the time-shifting, social networking, word-of-mouth, gifting, etc. When shows are cut off prematurely, they’ll never get a chance to participate in that ecosystem.

For the past two years, one of our favorite shows has been Chuck on NBC. It too was practically canceled, until enough fans online saved it at least for part of next season. I’m hoping that decision will pay off for NBC, because we’re definitely looking forward to seeing more episodes. At least Chuck ended with a proper season finale, which was engaging enough to have been satisfying as a series finale as well, if it needed to be.

By the way, even though we watched every episode of Chuck every week, we also bought two copies of each season’s DVDs. So, we fast-forwarded through the commercials, but we still sent in our cash…

Anyway, thanks again to ABC for making the remaining episodes of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money (which had more fans than the first two, not including us) available, both on TV, and online!