Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Viva to be found in Laughlin

The US version of quirky BBC series Viva Blackpool has died a quick and painful death, despite the presence of movie star Hugh Jackman in the pilot. CBS axed Viva Laughlin after just two episodes, making it the first scripted casualty of the new American TV season. Jackman helped exec-produce the show, adapting the singing and dancing drama, but CBS was never the right home for this off-kilter tale.

CBS is trying to branch out and expand its aging audience, an audience that loves procedurals like CSI. Viva Laughlin was even given the plumb post-CSI slot last Thursday, but after fumbling that opportunity and dying on its arse for a second episode at the weekend, the end was well and truly nigh for the series.

Last time anybody tried to launch a show with unlikly characters bursting into song, it was just as spectacular a failure. The legendary Cop Rock by Hill St Blues creator Steven Bochco got a few more episodes on the air, but that's more a symptom of how unforgiving US networks have become to low rating shows. Had the critics loved Viva Laughlin, it might have been given more of a chance.

For example, Friday Night Lights got a whole season last year and renewal thanks to critical raves, despite low ratings. But Viva Laughlin had the stench of death about it weeks before launching. Entertainment Weekly even urged people to record the car crash as it happened, for future savouring. That's never a good sign.

Bets are now being taken to see what drama is next for the chop. Most of the new genre shows like Chuck and Journeyman are holding their own, but Bionic Woman has troubles and sitcom Cavemen can't be that long for this world. As with all these things, a wait and see posture answers most questions.

The trend to quick cancellation is crossing the Atlantic too, though it usually only applied to extreme examples. Legal drama The Innocence Project got pulled out of primetime last year after failing to find its audience. Any scripted series that drops towards only two million viewers on BBC1 or ITV1 now risks getting ripped from the schedule and burnt off at a later date. But rare is the British scripted series that gets dumped after only to episodes and four days.

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