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Are good shows sacrificed for ratings?

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Utopia first hit UK screens in 2013. With a complex plot, nuanced characters and delicate lashings of ultraviolence, Utopia mixes conspiracy, moral dilemma and British humour in an uncompromising visceral masterpiece.

Its surreal tone is emphasized by a vivid colour palette and a soundtrack which seamlessly encapsulates the brilliance of showrunner Dennis Kelly’s vision. I would recommend it to anyone. Don’t just take it from me – its broadcaster Channel 4 labelled it “strikingly original” and “channel defining”. In the same statement, they announced that they were cancelling it after two seasons.

Its broadcaster Channel 4 labelled it “strikingly original” and “channel defining”. In the same statement, they announced that they were cancelling it after two seasons.

This is a familiar tale. Uproar followed the announcement that American broadcaster NBC would be cancelling Hannibal, another show with a heavily stylised palette and a penchant for graphic violence. Whilst shows such as Lost and Dexter persevered despite drastic drops in quality, Lie to Me and Freaks and Geeks were cancelled before they had the opportunity to fully develop.

Despite the emergence of Netflix and the recent explosion of new TV programmes, too many excellent shows are pushed to the wayside. Channel 4 claim that they ditched Utopia in order to pave the way for more original programmes, but their recent acquisition of The Great British Bake Off implies that this isn’t their primary concern. I don’t really understand what Bake Off is, but from what I can gather it’s recently killed off several of its main characters, including fan-favourite Mary Berry. This doesn’t sound too original to me – Game of Thrones has been doing that for years.

In all seriousness, Bake Off and Game of Thrones have one thing in common: high ratings. Network executives will mercilessly ignore critical acclaim or a dedicated cult following in favour of mass viewership. This explains why the world’s most watched TV drama, The Walking Dead, is allowed to flounder onwards in a vague direction like, if you’ll forgive the pun, a zombie.

Network executives will mercilessly ignore critical acclaim or a dedicated cult following in favour of mass viewership.

There are exceptions to the rule of ratings: the first two seasons of Breaking Bad were seen by few, but AMC continued the series, and we all know what happened next. It’s crucial for broadcasters to allow their shows time to consolidate their characters and plot. It’s also important to support your favourite TV shows by watching them legitimately. Far be it from me to suggest I stream any TV illegally, but I’m aware that many are guilty of such heinous crimes.

Finally, we shouldn’t neglect shows which have a darker or more demanding concept. Let’s not switch on just to switch off.

 

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