Highly Touted 'Lone Star' The Latest Network Casualty

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While the first kill for most TV seasons past imposes a Darwinian sense of order to the universe, the Fox drama Lone Star was being toasted by critics as a real find. And in the wake of its death, anxiety is blooming that this is broadcast TV sending a signal that anything outside the usual formulaic pap will struggle to survive. Lone Star had the makings of a well-written character study of a true anti-hero — a con man juggling two wives. The search for meaning has sent many groping for other answers, from misleading marketing as a Dallas-style soap, to the casting of an unknown in the lead role. Ultimately, why do bad things happen to good shows? Maybe it just does.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Two episodes, that's how long it took FOX to cancel its new drama "Lone Star," making the show the first casualty of the new TV season. While broadcasters are notorious for having little patience this time of year, commentator Andrew Wallenstein says "Lone Star" is not the typical early victim.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Charles Darwin wasn't just right about evolution. His theories also hold true for the fall TV season. Every year, it seemed like the weak shows were the first to get canceled, which brought a sense of order to the universe. You know, like when ABC 86ed its sitcom adaptation of the Geico cavemen ad. But this year was different. The stunner here is that "Lone Star" was touted by critics as one of the very best pilots in this year's crop.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Lone Star")

Mr. JAMES WOLK (Actor): (as Bob Allen) What do you need? How much do you want? You want a million? You want two million?

WALLENSTEIN: It stood out because of the originality of its story, which followed a con man attempting to juggle two different lives and two different women.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Lone Star")

Mr. DAVID KEITH (Actor): (as John Allen) Why would you do this?

Mr. WOLK: (as Bob Allen) Because I'm in love, Dad.

Mr. KEITH: (as John Allen) Who are you in love with, son, your fake wife or your fake girlfriend?

WALLENSTEIN: Which isn't to say the quick hook FOX just gave "Lone Star" wasn't justified. The series ratings weren't just bad; they were really, really, really bad.

And so a search for meaning follows any tragic death, and "Lone Star's" is no exception. The theories abound, like the simple fact "Lone Star" faced off against some tough competition like "Dancing With the Stars" and "Monday Night Football." Or you could point to the notion that "Lone Star" had complicated serialized storylines which didn't tie into a neat bow at the end of each episode.

But what's worse is that the demise of "Lone Star" forces us to confront some hard truths about the true nature of the TV audience. Like when you look at the ratings results of this year's new crop, it's hard not to despair that the ones that succeeded stuck to the tried and true formulas. The new CBS sitcom "Mike & Molly" worked because it's the same dopey romantic comedy we've seen a thousand times already.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Mike & Molly")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) You finally called her? Why am I just hearing about this?

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as character) Oh, I'm sorry. Haven't you been following my Facebook page?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALLENSTEIN: Or there's NBC's "The Event"...

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Event")

WALLENSTEIN: ...which may fancy itself a spooky mystery, but it's so clearly ripping off the recently departed favorite "Lost."

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Event")

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (as character) What is going on?

Unidentified Man #4 (Actor): (as character) We don't know. Radar capability, our entire system is down.

WALLENSTEIN: Do you know what I think really killed "Lone Star"? Here's what you need to understand about a TV pilot. It's the idea of a show, what it might grow into as opposed to what it actually is. And critics responded to that because they saw the potential for an intimate character study of an antihero.

But all the audience had to go off of was FOX's marketing. The commercials seemed to be setting up a very different kind of show, one that emphasized "Lone Star's" Texas setting and soapier elements. In short, it made it seem like the second coming of "Dallas." But I don't get the sense American viewers are hungering for the return of "Dallas." Then again, we don't know what the audience is really thinking. Which is why the awful truth is we'll never know what exactly killed "Lone Star." Why do bad things happen to good shows? Unfortunately, sometimes they just do.

BLOCK: Commentator Andrew Wallenstein writes for the Hollywood Reporter.

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