Extreme Makeover: Network Series Edition

Later, "H8R." "Unforgettable" ... not so much. "Are You There, Chelsea?" ... not anymore. "GCB" is now D.O.A. And "Napoleon Dynamite" has gone out with a whimper, not a bang.

Those are just six of the 38 television series that the major networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and (yes) The CW — removed from our screens, monitors, tablets and phones at the end of the TV season.

The networks like to use the phrase "ended its run," when we all know that the shows have been cancelled. Or, in the case of "Best Friends Forever" ... defriended.

Thirty-eight is a lot of shows that won't be around anymore. And not to beat a dead horse, but that doesn't even include cable series such as "In Plain Sight," "HawthoRNe" and "Luck" — all of which have been dispatched.

The number would have climbed to an even 40 (and hey, there's a lot of time until September) had "Cougar Town" been cancelled instead of leaving ABC for TBS (Very funny? We'll see.), while the improbably resilient "Rules of Engagement" remains in limbo despite 86 episodes that no one has ever seen.

If you're like me ... well, I'm sorry. But if you are, there are two questions on your mind at the moment.

Why will "Whitney" return to NBC next fall? And ... they really made a TV series out of "Napoleon Dynamite"? Yup, that's the programming genius of television execs for you: Take a cult film from 2004, turn it into an animated series eight years later and ... watch what happens!

We could go through all 38 cancellations and analyze why they didn't work; but that would take time and what is there to say about "Free Agents," other than ... what was it about, anyway?

Instead, let's take one series from each of the five commercial networks and attempt to decipher why it is that we'll never see new episodes of them.

"Pan Am" (ABC)

Consider for a minute the amount of time, money, energy, money, detail and money it took to mount this series about the goings-on among a group of stewardesses (era-appropriate reference) on a classic airline in the early 1960s.

The production values on this series were seriously impressive. The period detail, the costuming, the look, the signature shot of the flight crew strutting to a gate ... everything was a feast for the eyes. And then, characters spoke.

Oops.

"Pan Am" was one of two blatant network attempts to reconfigure the "Mad Men" template of swank design and arched storylines and construct a hit. The other one, NBC's short-lived look at "The Playboy Club," didn't even last through the first month of the TV season.

What went wrong? Well, to quote esteemed physician Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester as he counseled an injured classical pianist: "More than anything in my life I wanted to play, but I do not have the gift. I can play the notes, but I cannot make the music."

What "Pan Am" suffered from — aside from plots that never got off the ground (a stewardess-spy?) and the sense that today's airports are not joyous, safe launching pads for adventure — was comparison to the source. Sure, it had the bells and whistles in place, but they made a noise no one wanted to hear.

"CSI Miami" (CBS)

If you read enough chatter on the Internet through the TV season, you would have seen scuttlebutt that at least one member of the "CSI" family tree was headed for extinction.

So, why did it turn out to be "Miami," which was bathed in the orange and turquoise colors of the moment, was the most stylized in terms of its look and dialogue with an over-the-top lead in David Caruso and a locale that was different than most elsewhere across the medium?

Well, a few things happened. First, the "CSI" mothership became reinvigorated with the additions of Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue to front the Las Vegas cast. And "CSI: New York," while always the ugly stepchild of the family, still had enough legs in storyline to merit continuation.

"CSI: Miami," meanwhile, had no compelling reason to continue. IT ended its run (there's that magic phrase) after 10 years with stories that started to double-back onto themselves (arrest the serial-killer son of the powerful crime family already) until it ended its season with one of its team members being the killer.

As with "House" and "Desperate Housewives," there was nowhere left for "CSI: Miami" to go at that point except to let Horatio Crane and his sunglasses sail off to the horizon.

"Alcatraz" (FOX)

Boy, oh boy, could we go on and on here. "Alcatraz" was the perfect example of a TV series that should have been a theatrical film. Prisoners and guards from the final days of the prison's operation disappeared, then started returning.

Why? Oooh, a "central mystery" series ... you know, like "The River," and "Awake" and the once great, but now barely breathing "Fringe." Is it a time warp? Alien abduction? Government conspiracy? Alternate realities? Purgatory?

"Alcatraz" is a show that should have worked, and probably would have worked a few seasons back in the time of "Lost." But as creator J.J. Abrams discovered when his first attempt at a "Lost" clone ("Fast Forward") fizzled, the landscape has changed.

What were the buzziest new series of the year? By all accounts, the melodramatic "Revenge" and the woman-fronted sitcom "Two Broke Girls." Those are the trends right now over the commercial airwaves, and shows such as "Alcatraz" seem so much like someone's yesterday.

"Prime Suspect" (NBC)

Ah, the year of the remakes. What were they thinking. Along with the aforementioned "Napoleon Dynamite" (seriously, I'm not kidding about that), series were reincarnated out of the memories of TV shows and movies such as "Charlie's Angels" and "The Firm."

New versions of "Hawaii Five-0" and "90210" remain on the air (maybe it's a numbers thing), and this June sees the rebirth of "Dallas." But in general, as we've seen with movies based on TV shows, it's rarely the premise of the original that matters. More often than not, viewers want the original experience. "The Firm" without Tom Cruise? "Charlie's Angels" without Farrah, Jaclyn, Kate or Cheryl?

And, really, "Prime Suspect" without Helen Mirren? Maria Bello is always interesting and intelligent to watch on-screen. But shoved under a goofy hat and squeezed into series that was a classic, is it any wonder that the shoes were too big to fill?

"Ringer" (The CW)

Poor Sarah Michelle Gellar. Truly, here's an actress that deserves to be seen regularly on your TV screen, monitor, tablet, etc.

Imagine the erstwhile star of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" as the lead character in "Revenge." Or in the Emma Swan role on "Once Upon A Time." Or as a Marilyn contender on "Smash." Or the CIA agent on "Covert Affairs"?

Instead, she gets saddled with the tale of identical twins who switch roles and run from the mob ... maybe, could be, or is she just a schizophrenic? What a mess.

Part of the problem is that Gellar's fanbase looks at her playing Bridget and/or Siobhan Kelly and they see Buffy Summers. Like Kelsey Grammer's attempts to escape Frasier Crane that successfully culminated in "Boss," Gellar needs to get away from the damsel in distress and/or supernatural storylines.

There's always next season.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin writes the occasional column about television for Tempo. He can be reached at rgalvin@mailtribune.com


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