Monday, July 03, 2006

Fox's O.C. Shake-Up

Variety first reported last week that Fox has scaled back its order for new episodes of The O.C. to 16, instead of the 22 customary for prime-time dramas. It will also face steep Thursday night competition from a few other hit shows very popular with teens, CSI and Grey's Anatomy.

There are several ways of interpreting this news. The most pessimistic evaluation, and probably the most likely, is that Fox has lost confidence in the show's longevity after a third season that was disappointing in both ratings and reception. They're simply hedging their bets, and if the show fails to perform better this season, so long Seth Cohen.

However, there are a few points that make me moderate my disappointment. First, as reported in Entertainment Weekly, is that series creator Adam Schwartz has been enticed to return to the series full time and take a more hands-on approach to guiding the show. Second, Fox has yet to resort to the true sign that a show is circling the drain, they haven't moved it to another time slot. Finally, the show has never had a typical season order. As you may recall, the show was introduced during the summer months and, after it became a big hit, picked up for a full fall season. The first season subsequently had 27 episodes, season 2 had 24, and this recent season had 25. A couple extra episodes a season may not seem like many for the viewer (although it's likely to fatigue some), but it's likely very taxing for the production company. 22 episodes a year is already a major undertaking, giving cast and crew little time to work on other projects or find time to for a creative recharge. If I thought anything was wrong with the last season, it's that I could have done without half of the episodes. A smaller season order, coupled with the return of the show's creator, gives me hope for a tighter and more effective season arc. I even wonder if the reduced order may have come out of a request from the producers, with the intent of giving the crew more time to do higher quality work.

If television weren't in such a transitional stage right now, with networks experimenting with new models of production and distribution (something the success of the summer launch-pad approach pioneered with The O.C. has encouraged), I would totally discount the second option. There is a glimmer of hope out there that television producers are starting to realize that quantity at the expense of quality is not the way to maintain viewership.


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