When you were a kid, your parents kept certain difficult realities from you for your own good. Maybe they didn’t want you to know that they were having financial or marital problems. Or, it could have been that they didn’t think you were ready to know how sex worked or that you weren’t particularly cute. Whatever it was, they shielded you from it so you could enjoy your childhood.
If TV networks, showrunners, and actors felt that same sense of parental responsibility toward their audiences, at least 10% of the anxiety in TV-watching life would be eliminated.
If you’re a Community fan, then you undoubtedly know about this weird quasi/maybe-not-so-quasi feud between series creator Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase. If you aren’t a fan and don’t know what the hell I’m referring to (a) consider yourself lucky, (b) it’s about leaked voicemails and on-set behavior that suggest the two aren’t the chummiest of chums, and (c) the actual reasons behind the beef don’t matter as much as the fact that the beef is public knowledge now.
And that hurts the show.
I didn’t start watching Community until earlier this year. But in that short amount of time, I’ve become an ardent follower (even going so far as to make my own cardboard box spaceship in an effort to be more like the great Troy and Abed). But this Harmon-Chase thing muddles that fandom. I’m not saying that I like Community any less, but this on-going saga (a new angry Chase voicemail from a year ago was leaked last week) forces me to think about issues that aren’t actually happening on the show when I’m watching the show, and I don’t like that.
For instance, I can’t watch Pierce and Shirley grill Britta about her relationship with Subway and just enjoy that moment without wondering what Yvette Nicole Brown and Gillian Jacobs really think about Chase. Bigger than that though, I can’t help wondering what all this behind-the-scenes mess means for Community’s future. Will Chase quit the show? How would his absence change things? Will these issues have any impact on the show’s chances for renewal? I don’t want to have that kind of totally unnecessary anxiety in my life. Sitcoms are supposed to entertain you, not stress you out, and I have enough actual problems going on in my life without this other noise in my head.
The more common off-camera issue is cancellation. Fringe, one of my favorite shows, is perpetually on the verge of being cut from Fox’s lineup. In January, Fox president Kevin Reilly openly discussed the series during a press tour, saying, “it’s an expensive show. We lose a lot of money on the show. But with that rating on that night it’s almost impossible for us to make money on it. We’re not in the business of losing money.” I read that comment on several different entertainment websites, including The Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, (on most of those sites “we’re not in the business of losing money” was the title of the article) and was obviously upset by it.
I understand Reilly’s position, it’s completely valid, but because I’m so invested in Fringe, the comment comes off as cold and obnoxious. He’s basically saying that the show isn’t long for this world. But is that what he’s really saying? Actually, Reilly’s hedging here, and in the process, he’s jerking Fringe fans around. This especially becomes apparent when he follows the statement up with, “I’m not quietly doing the ‘soft cancel’ here.”
On one hand, I would like to know if a show that I care about is in danger of being canceled—that information is what fuels fans to start letter-writing campaigns and other grassroots “save this show” movements. On the other hand, it’s hard to simply relax in front of my TV set and, in the case of Fringe, take pleasure in John Noble doing his brilliant John Noble thing with cancellation looming over every episode.
If Fringe is canceled, I’m pretty sure that I’ll recover from it, but I’d prefer to be given information when there’s actually information to be given, I really don’t want to know what Reilly’s (or any other person in his position) thought process is. To use the parental analogy from earlier, it’s like your parents telling you that they’re going to get divorced, but then saying, “no, maybe we won’t get divorced. But, yeah, no, we’re almost certainly getting divorced, possibly.” It’s like, do it or don’t do it, and then don’t tell me about it until you’ve made a decision.
When I was in high school, I was a huge fan of Ryan Murphy’s Popular. The second season ended with a cliffhanger—one of the major characters was hit by a car—and then the show was canceled. As unsatisfying as the ending was, I prefer that scenario to knowing that a show is on the so-called renewal bubble. Ignorance truly is bliss because I loved that last season of Popular. It was like being taken out for ice cream right before being told that my dog died—the aftermath sucked but that ice cream did taste really good, so at least I had a little happiness before shit got real.
It sounds odd, but I miss the days when your favorite show would be on TV one week and then suddenly disappear the next week without any explanation or when cast conflicts didn’t overshadow a show but were part of its mythology, revealed years after the finale—like that thing between Andy Griffith and Frances Bavier (aka Aunt Bee).
Do you like knowing what’s happening with your favorite shows off camera? Would you prefer that any conflicts between cast members and showrunners be kept from the public? Who would win in a fight, Andy Griffith or Aunt Bee?