Debate: Best TV Show Cancelled Too Soon

You may have noticed that MovieDebaters has been spending a lot of time talking about TV lately and you would be right (hint hint Another TV article is in the works). We have been focusing on the small screen more these days because though we love the movies, Harrison and myself are devotees to good narrative, whether that’s on the silver screen, the tv screen, or the computer monitor. With that, Harrison and I bring you tonight’s debate The Best TV Show Cancelled too Soon. Harrison will defend Terriers and I will defend Sports Night.

Harrison: I don’t think there’s been any other show in the past 10 years, hell, ever, that pains me to think about as Terriers does. It was such an amazingly written show with deeply defined characters and rich plots. And it got cancelled after one season. We only got 13 episodes of the adventures of Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) and Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond James). But they are 13 of the most awesome hours of television ever. The main reason it pains me to think about this show is because at its core, it is a detective show. There are limitless possibilities. Maybe under different circumstance the show would have outstayed its welcome. As it stands now, we only get a fleeting look into the universe of Terriers.

Josh E: The same thing that makes television great is the same as it’s weakness: they extend the length of the narrative to allow you to build and maintain compassion for its characters. The problem with television, you must produce the ratings to stay on the air. Some of the better shows on television don’t build the ratings quick enough and die a quick death. The best example of this is Sports Night. It’s the pinnacle of Sorkin’s writing: a romantic comedy series about sportscasters that has its roots in production code era quick talking classics like His Girl Friday. It had a bigger run than most television shows, but I believe if it was given a bit more time it would have become a high watermark in broadcast television.

Harrison: This is the part where I confess I’ve never seen Sports Night and it’ll be hard for me to disparage it for this debate.

Josh E: This is the part where I confess that I’ve never seen Terriers. So let’s call it even.

Harrison: Excellent. Part of the problem with Terriers that I, and other fans have, is that the show had low ratings. Now, this happens. A lot. Good shows sometimes get ratings. The problem is that the low ratings of Terriers so clearly came from the marketing department it just stings. The problem wasn’t that the show was called “Terriers.” The problem is the show was marketed as a show about dogs. When the show was airing, I made informal inquiries to friends and family if they’d heard of the show. Everyone thought it was about dog catchers. The show’s actual subject matter had the potential to reach millions of viewers. It was a detective show for people who were sick of the pandering detective shows that dominate CBS’s lineup.

Josh E: I agree, even posters for it in the city featured a vicious looking dog. I only found out about it after rave reviews from TV Critics

Harrison: Whereas, with Sports Night (correct me if I’m wrong). It got a reasonably fair shot at staying on the air but just failed to stick. Kind of like an Arrested Development situation.

Josh E: I would agree with the Arrested Development analogy. The difference I would point out is that Sports Night unlike arrested development struggled to find it’s voice until about midway through the second season. I blame this on Sorkin who was also running the West Wing at the time. He also let the show die after turning down some offers to move to a new network. It was truly mishandled in the first season as a sitcom which it is not. It’s romantic comedy television series, comparable to HBO comedies like Sex in the City

Harrison: Interesting. If I may be so bold. It sounds like what we’re debating is which show deserved to have more of a chance: the show screwed over by people not involved with the production, or the show that needed more time to find its footing.

Josh E: Maybe what we’re debating is which show would’ve used the second chance better?

Harrison: If that’s the case I can’t imagine Terriers doing anything differently. It would be the same exact show but with more viewers. More viewers equals more time to tell more stories.

Josh E: Is there any evidence to support the claim that terriers would’ve gained more traction by word of mouth? Sports Night increased ratings by 1 million from season one to season two. ABC would kill for 11.5 million in prime time now.

Harrison: It’s hard to say whether the show would have gained viewers. It was sub one million viewers for its finale. Of course fans and critics were frothing at the mouth championing its quality. But with that few viewers, it might not have made a difference. Even lowly rating Community got/gets more viewers than Terriers. And that show is the definition of a lowly rated show hanging on by sheer will of its fans.

Josh E: I feel like what kept Terriers from succeeding is it’s genre bending tone

Harrison: Expand.

Josh E: It’s hard to fit into a sell-able category which in turn really made the marketing department look like fools. We might find it was ahead of its time.

Harrison: But at its core it was a detective show. It was about two less than honorable guys solving crimes. And sure, a lot of the show was about their personal lives, but the central premise of the show was solving mysteries. This show was outstanding for its time for a few reasons. One, the actors were all perfectly cast. Two, the depictions of the characters were deep and mature. Three, the plots weren’t terribly outlandish. Four, it was a great show for people who did not want to watch pandering fluffy bullshit detective shows that are ubiquitous in today’s tv landscape.

Josh E: By pandering fluffy bullshit detective shows I think you mean Law and Order/CSI

Harrison: Yes.

I’m gonna be bold for the second time and say Unforgiven:Westerns from the 1950s::Terriers:NCIS/CSI/Law and Order

Josh E: I like the SAT analogies, but… Come on you can see why it’s cancelled, nobody watched it. It’s shitty that it had to happen but TV and Film are businesses bottom line they need to be profitable

Harrison: Oh I understand that. I’m just trying to explain why the show was great and why it deserved more of an audience. At the end of the day I’m glad there was a full season run and that the show got to wrap up all its story lines.

Josh E: I think Sports Night is more of a tragedy, because not only was it a good show, it had decent ratings, and was picking up steam heading into its third season

Harrison: I get what you’re saying. And it sucks for a show to be cut down in its prime. But from a sheer numbers game, Sports Night got 45 episodes. (I know that’s a shitty card for me to play.)

Josh E: Let’s use season numbers because an FX run and an ABC run aren’t the same. It’s not Sports Night’s fault ABC has a 22/23 episode run

Harrison: You’re right. My point though is this: For any work of art, whether it be a tv show, movie, album, etc., you can always say that if you had more time to tinker, edit, reshape, work out the kinks, anything can be made better. Terriers from the get-go knew what show it wanted to be and how to be that show. From what I’m hearing from you, it sounded like Sports Night blew through a lot of its episodes being a show it shouldn’t have been. And that after lots of tinkering, the show finally started to shape up to something great. But that’s why I think Terriers deserved the chance more. It was already confident. There was no need for tinkering.

Josh E: When I said earlier “hit it’s stride” I meant the studio enforced laugh track was finally removed, and the show was allowed to be a comedy instead of a sitcom that the studio wanted. This is what’s awesome about today in television, the creators have near total control over their shows, like Ted Griffin had with Terriers. It produces great television, sure not all of them hit and stay on, but most have roughly a season to put something together.

Harrison: I understand your point now.

Josh E: Sports Night was forced to be something else and finally when it was allowed to be itself it was cancelled—that’s a tragedy. Terriers was cancelled for low ratings, it’s unfortunate but it’s the business side of television, and I’m sure Ted Griffin will get another opportunity based on the critical acclaim he received for Terriers. (not that Sorkin won’t)

Harrison: I get that Sports Night’s tragedy is that the creatives in charge of making the show were forced to put out content they did not believe in. However, it’s still Terriers that has more of a sting to me. Because it is pretty much the inverse of Sports Night’s situation. The creatives of Terriers were allowed to do exactly what they wanted. But because of the incompetence of outside forces (marketers), the show failed to gain viewers. If not for that error, Terriers would still be on the air, in it’s third season. The critical acclaim was through the roof for that show. It ended up on many critics best of the year lists. It was a good show, and it deserved far more viewers than it got.

Josh E: I chalk Terriers up to bad advertising. It was a great show that didn’t get the audience it deserves. That happens, but it’s not as egregious as a network taking a round show and trying to fit it into a square time slot. It’s also not as egregious as the network canceling the show which was gaining momentum after it was allowed to be what it really was. Which show deserves the second chance? The show that never was given a true first chance first chance.

Any honorable mentions?

Harrison: I’d be remiss not to mention Firefly. Party Down probably could have had more episodes. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. could have gone on forever as far as I’m concerned.

Josh E: The Black Donnelly’s, Twin Peaks, and Police Squad.

You can watch Terriers and Sports Night in their entirety online at Netflix.com. Or you could watch it, ahem, ahem, online elsewhere.

Which show’s did we miss? What shows do you miss the most?

-Harrison and Josh E.

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