In Memoriam: ‘Lone Star’

Well, Fox, you’ve done it again.   Axed a show before it even had a chance to reach its bris.   Lone Star is officially dead.

But this feels somehow different.  This was not The Pitts, or Brothers, or even Kitchen Confidential.  This was a show that arrived with critical praise, almost unanimously hailed as the season’s “best new network show.”  It had a beautiful backdrop to match its beautiful young faces.  It had Jon Voight.  And, most importantly, it had an original, complex story.  While a lot of shows come and go, and a lot of them deserve to be banished (looking at you, Outsourced), this is certainly not the first series unfairly cut down before it’s time.  It joins a group of shows like Love Monkey and Action that share the unfortunate distinction of a premature demise, depriving the viewing public of quality television.  Lone Star is not the first and it won’t be the last.  But why then is this particular cancellation so troubling?

It feels that Lone Star was somehow a referendum on quality shows on network television, and the pessimistic outlook is that the series’ inability to hook the necessary number of viewers to stay afloat on Fox demonstrates that quality television has no place on the networks (who knows if Lone Star would even have survived on The CW, whose Gossip Girl it failed to outdraw).  A lot of the talk about Lone Star prior to its premiere mentioned that it had the feel of a cable show.  Indeed, it was like a cable program with a network gloss and indie-rock soundtrack, Terriers meets Friday Night Lights meets Chuck.  And now one has to wonder if it would have fared better on cable; is that where it really belonged?  On a network like FX it would have had fewer restrictions on content (and from the amount of sex in the first two episodes we reckon they would have utilized that freedom), and it would have been allowed to present an even more complex narrative.  And the ratings expectations would have been much reduced; even Mad Men still doesn’t pull in massive numbers.  And who knows, cable pedigree might have drawn even more viewers.  The network audience, already busy with Dancing with the Stars on a Monday night is not interested in a show like Lone Star.  But the cable audience might have been a different story.

And we’ll give Fox credit, they weren’t stingy with the marketing dollars; it seemed that they ran a pretty extensive promotional campaign.  And, yet, one of our best friends who watches a great deal of television and would likely be part of Lone Star‘s core demographic had never heard of the show when we mentioned enjoying the pilot.  And at the same time almost of all of Brooklyn tuned into to watch Boardwalk Empire the night before, on a pay cable channel no less.  And then, three nights after Lone Star‘s premiere, insulting drivel like Outsourced and Sh*t My Dad Says debuted with much greater success.

So what makes Lone Star‘s failure so alarming, so utterly concerning, is that it signals that smart, innovating storytelling, especially drama, has no place below channel 13 on the dial.  So not only do we lose a promising new show, but we’re left wondering if we’ll see one like it again on network television.  And we’ve been very resistant to admitting that cable TV offers superior programming.  We would point out that there’s quality, compelling content on both sides.  But with Lost gone and Lone Star buried, it really does seem like the message is clear: network TV is no longer the place for challenging, complicated, clever drama.  It’s still hanging in there comedy-wise, thanks to Community and 30 Rock, but it seems increasingly likely that’s going to change as well.   The writing is on the wall.

So, good-bye, Lone Star.  Hello cable?

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And this just seems like a great time to discuss our last favorite show pulled before its time, the under-appreciated, unheralded Journeyman.  It wasn’t an original premise, owing to Quantum Leap and Sliders among others, but it was good, and Kevin McKidd was exceptional as its star.  It premiered the night before Heroes, and the two deserved opposite fates.  Heroes, a cheap, myopic, superficial knock-off of better shows and comic books, should have been canned immediately, and Journeyman should have enjoyed a few more seasons, and the chance to wrap up its story appropriately.  And we can only hope Lone Star somehow gets that opportunity.

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Filed under Analysis, Best Show You're Not Watching, Dillon Panthers, In Memoriam

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