Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Which show have you tried to save (by writing/talking/tweeting about, etc.) in your capacity as a critic? Did it work?
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
I feel like I’ve done this a lot, and I’ve had a better record than you’d expect. The very first time I did it, I wrote an article called, “Hey, Fox: Save ‘Dollhouse,’” and then Fox did! I’m magic!
But probably the worst time was when I wrote an article about how fear of cancellation might become “a thing of the past,” centered on the show’s “Trophy Wife,” “Enlisted,” and “Hannibal.” Only the last of those was renewed, and the article was mocked as me having misread the TV tea leaves. But you know what? I stand by that article; I was just a few years too early. Most of the lessons I had parsed out within it were coming true within a couple of years of its publication.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
I think the most notable example of this for me happened last year, when Netflix very rudely canceled “Sense8,” a show I deeply enjoyed, LITERALLY WHILE I WAS ON AN AIRPLANE GOING ON MY FIRST VACATION IN THREE YEARS. (Love you Netflix, but still, RUDE.) A couple of weeks later, I found the time to write an argument for why Netflix needed to greenlight a series finale special (inspired by a Reddit commenter). Normally, I’m used to shouting into the void, so the fact that a year later, I sat in a movie theater full of fans screaming the lyrics to “What’s Going On” as Linda Perry played guitar as a prelude to the finale’s premiere was a truly beautiful moment. I won’t say I made it happen, because it was the fans who made it happen. But as a fan, ultimately, I like to think I helped.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
It’s a mixed bag. My very first story at THR nearly three years ago was a Save Our Show piece about “The Carmichael Show.” NBC renewed it a couple days later. So I guess that worked? But I tried again on “The Carmichael Show” at the start of the third season and it ultimately was not renewed. I’ve also done “Renew this Show” pieces about “One Day at a Time” (worked), “The Good Place” after Season 1 (worked) and “Sweet/Vicious” (didn’t work). There was the time back in 2014 that I talked Robert Greenblatt into renewing “Parks and Recreation” from the stage at TCA press tour. That was cool. But I’ve advocated on behalf of plenty of shows that didn’t make it. That’s the thing about our blogging/podcasting/tweeting age. We’re blathering about TV constantly.
Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com
I’ve written several stories over the years to try to save shows. I’ve tweeted about even more. But the first show that actually comes to mind is “Sweet/Vicious.” Its sad demise lingered with me for a long time after MTV canceled the show, not only because it was a smart show that many of us tried to save, but because it was one of the few shows on TV giving voice to sexual assault survivors and talking about something truly important. Part of me wonders if the show had premiered in the wake of Harvey Weinstein if it would have had a better chance of being saved, but my faith in people doing the right thing is pretty much nonexistent at this point. At the end of the day, “Sweet/Vicious,” like the women whose stories it was telling, deserved to be treated better than it was.
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
I’ve never specifically called for a campaign or raised the banners to save a show, but I have written many editorials at the end of seasons where renewal seems uncertain, or especially unlikely, hoping for more episodes. I don’t know if those kinds of pleas matter to a show’s fate, but I always feel like it’s worth expressing appreciation for a good series, both for the benefit of other fans (“you aren’t alone!”) and for those who have created it and work on it (“you are still kicking butt!”), even if the networks aren’t interested in pursuing it. So much of a critic’s job is weighing up the value of new or returning series to start a season, but another key component is coming back around to praise series that keep up their quality (or just their fun). It’s a great feeling to be able to champion a show, especially if you can have a hand in helping bring it back. Sometimes with my own writing it’s worked, sometimes it hasn’t, and sometimes it only works for a little while. But positivity is always a good thing, and whether or not the show is one that I watch, I love seeing a passionate viewership rewarded with more episodes.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Rolling Stone
One of the weirder moments of my career came on NBC’s upfronts call in the spring of 2009, when I asked the network’s then-boss Ben Silverman why he pulled “Chuck” off the bubble and gave it a third season. He said it was because of the open letter I had written in my column urging him to save the show. The real answer was a lot more complicated than that — mainly, Warner Bros. reduced the budget and corresponding license fee enough to make the show more financially appealing to NBC — but the series wound up sticking around for five total seasons, so whatever the reason, I was happy.
I’ve tried to do the open letter thing sparingly since then, and it almost never has any impact. Case in point: my plea for FX to save “Terriers.” RIP.
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), GoldDerby
The shows I tried to save and whose demises I am still sad about are “Happy Endings,” “The Grinder” and “Great News.” If you know me at all, this is very on brand. I always find myself championing for comedies a lot more than dramas. I’ve never really worried about a beloved, little-seen drama — they have a built-in prestige factor that helps — but comedies are more easily disposable. “Happy Endings” was probably the hardest for me, especially when news broke on my birthday that USA would not pick it up. I love “The Grinder” so much that I somehow got Timothy Olyphant onto a Best Performances of 2016 list long after it was canceled and I’m still clinging onto Rob Lowe’s tease last year that it might return in some capacity. My “Great News” campaign probably should’ve been better, but at least Tracey Wigfield’s mom liked our idea to send Chico’s gift cards to NBC.
James “Hercules” Strong (@hercAICN), Ain’t It Cool News
In my 18 years as TV critic my biggest de-cancel push was for “Veronica Mars.” I was emboldened by the then-contemporaneous de-cancellation of CBS’ not-as-good “Jericho.” The most infuriating thing about my failure? The moment “Mars” was canceled The CW stopped giving any shit whatsoever about poor ratings; today the netlet routinely renews shows that can barely muster a 0.2 in the 18-49 demo.
(Postscript: Before turning TV critic, the only time I wrote a TV executive was to plead for a third season of “Twin Peaks.”)
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
The last one I passionately fought hard for was Cinemax’s evocative and chilling “The Knick.” Once I realized what the network was aiming for (not evocative chilling period dramas with prosthetic noses, self-surgery, and heroin habits) but action dramas that I care very little for, I did what most fans do. I had a small cry; I complained bitterly to deaf uncaring Cinemax ears. I also wrote articles extolling my undying affection for the cast that featured Eve Hewson (Bono’s kid!), Michael Angarano, Clive Owen, Andre Holland, and amazing secondary characters such as an especially oily Jeremy Bobb as the ethically challenged hospital administrator, plus Cara Seymour and Chris Sullivan, whose scenes together in character as Sister Harriet and Cleary respectively, earned them righteous deserved praise and should have won them award nominations at the very least. Such an ensemble. Two seasons of this remarkable show wasn’t enough.
Diane Gordon (@thesurfreport), Freelance
“Dear White People” is a show I’m constantly trying to get more Caucasians to watch. Whenever I mention the show, they say “I’ve heard about it but haven’t watched it. Do I need to?” And I always answer with an emphatic “yes.” The show’s ensemble cast is fantastic and at this cultural moment in time, the show helps me understand a culture different from the one I grew up experiencing and I love that! It’s crucial we all see more stories about women and people of color so we understand each other better.
As for whether my word of mouth recommendations and social media posts are working, the jury is out as Netflix hasn’t ordered a third season of the show yet. Here’s hoping they’ll give the green light for it because Justin Simien says he has a lot more stories to tell.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
I tend to live in contradiction when it comes to my role as an advocate for great television. On the one hand, I take my responsibility very seriously; the microphone handed to me at IndieWire can be very loud, so I do my best to use its volume for shows that aren’t making enough noise on their own. Be it “Dear White People,” “The Grinder,” or, in perpetuity, “The Leftovers,” I’ll make whatever case I can on their behalf so these talented creators can continue making terrific television, and then I can keep writing about it. (So it’s all selfish, really.)
But I don’t take any credit if one of these series actually gets renewed. Until a television executive walks up to me and says, “Yes, Ben, I read your piece about ‘Red Oaks’ and it convinced me to give it a third season,” there’s no way I’ll believe it ever went down like that. I think it’s better — for my personal mental health — to think this way, for fear of growing an ego or writing articles based on irrational whims, but there’s still the tiniest bit of my brain that can’t help but think about Mr. Netflix or Ms. NBC reading one of these pieces and giving their plans a second thought. It’s fuel to make an ironclad argument, even when that case is so rarely heard.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “The Handmaid’s Tale” (four votes)
Other contenders: “Pose” and “Westworld” (two votes each), “The Break With Michelle Wolf,” “Dietland,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.