Sunday, May 19, 2013

TV: How To Kill A Show With A Retool

Body of Proof was an audience pleaser when it debuted in March 2011.  Season two found some stumbles but the audience was along for the ride.  So last February and March, ABC was shocked by the record low ratings for the returning series.


Some people -- who we'll assume are on the ABC payroll -- keep writing that, with episode 6, the third season rebounded.  No, it didn't.  Episode six was a season high but what followed was up and down ratings.  If Body of Proof were a guest star on a hospital drama, Chandra Wilson would be talking about the need to stabilize the patient.

It's not a guest star on a hospital drama but what it is remains open to question.

Dana Delany put a lot of bad miles behind her (Exit to Eden, Desperate Housewives) with her strong performance as medical examiner Dr. Megan Hunt.  Jeri Ryan played her boss Kat, Geoffrey Arend and Windell Middlebrooks played Megan's peers Ethan and Curtis, Nicholas Bishop played Megan's partner Peter and the cast was rounded out by Sonja Sohn and John Carroll Lynch as police officers Bud and Samantha.  The show was about how the body 'talks.'  Using science, Megan's able to determine how the victim died.

It was a brainy show, clever enough to succeed at featuring a less than sympathetic lead.  Megan Hunt is always the smartest person in the room and never learned (or wanted to) how to be modest about it.  As medical examiner's go, it was Quincy in a nasty mood all the time.

Season two saw ups and downs and downright desperation at the end.

In one of the cheapest and tackiest stunts of that season, Body of Proof played into fear with a two-parter about a biological weapon attacking Philadelphia.

ABC wrongly thought they had an answer for the show.  Spooks and getting Megan out of science and into following criminal leads.  The second part was huge ratings wise, so it must be the way to go, right?


Stupidity runs through the networks as surely as it does through the Water Cooler Set.  Slate breathlessly panted, "The creative team concluded that those final episodes of Season 2 succeeded because the scientists' brilliant deductions were supplemented with fights and ticking time bombs, and because beloved characters were placed in mortal danger.  Enter Evan Katz, who spent seven seasons on 24, as a writer and executive producer."

Those three episodes didn't succeed.  The first of the two-parter was pretty much a failure (especially considering how heavily the network advertised it and Luke Perry's guest-starring role).  The second-part of that story did deliver the highest ratings for the entire season.  But the audience dropped the following week and the audience was low with part one.  So what was really at work?

The second part of the two-parter got good ratings because CBS' Unforgettable wasn't on.  It skipped April 3, 2012.  When it did air new episodes, it regularly destroyed the ratings for Body Of Proof.  While 10.51 million viewers was a season two high for Body of Proof,  18 of Unforgettable's 22 episodes pulled in more viewers.

That stunt didn't pull in viewers.  Viewers drifted over from CBS because Unforgettable wasn't on that night. [Unforgettable kicks off its second season July 28th.]

But the Water Cooler and ABC ignored facts to feed their own vanity.  This was how, they insisted, Body of Proof becomes a huge hit.

As a result of their 'expertise,' what debuted February 19, 2013 played more like Doll Face and a lot less like Body of Proof.

Doll Face, we quickly learned, was a kid sister of Police Woman.  She didn't have the strength Angie Dickinson invested into Pepper but didn't she look cute teetering around crime scenes in too high heels and carrying her hands as though her nails were still wet from a fresh coat of polish?

To be sure that you didn't miss how cute she was supposed to be, police officers at the crime scene would turn to watch her walk.  A Jayne Mansfeld film entrance had more modesty.  Sometimes, cops didn't just stare and study the 'hot piece,' sometimes they commented on it too.

Dana would make a bitchy remark, toss her hair and saunter off, ass swinging for the camera.

Unlike Body of Proof, Doll Face was more concerned with Megan's body than with her mind.

So they let her get into a lot of scrapes.  She was suddenly Sally MacMillan (Susan Saint James)  trying to solve Mac's case and desperately in need of Mac saving her.

Mac wasn't Bud and Sam.  They ditched those characters.  They couldn't afford to because, as Stan pointed out repeatedly each week, the show is set in Philadelphia which is 44% African-American . . . except on Body of Proof episodes.  With Samantha gone, the show had one less African-American cast member.  And  season three found Windell Middlebrook' Curtis reduced to a day player with a few lines when he was lucky.

Audiences who like looking at attractive men had Nicholas Bishop in seasons one and two.  Season three, they instead had Mark Valley forced off on them.

Is it too rude to point out that audiences have repeatedly said "no, thank you" when offered Mark Valley before?

His failed attempts at wooing audiences as a leading man include Keen Eddie, Harry's Law and Human Target.

Is it too rude to point out that, at the age of 48, Mark Valley's a little too old to be playing a character named "Tommy"?

Tommy was Megan's old flame and one of the many men on season three to vouch for how gorgeous and desirable Megan is.  Tommy's partner Adam (British actor Eyles Gabel) also got to vouch for how hot Megan was.   In addition to those two and the cast of police extras that were little more than panting dogs with their tongues hanging out, you had Marisa Ramirez as Officer Riley Dunn.  Marissa's attractive, very attractive.  You'd notice that if you watched her play Detective Maria Baez on CBS' Blue Bloods (where she's a regular cast member).  You wouldn't know it from Body of Proof.  While Megan's hair was forever loving arranged, you rarely saw Riley Dunn's hair and usually she was wearing a police costume that made her look hefty.

Yeah, it appeared that to make Megan the hottest thing on too-high heels, others were forced to dress down.  Take Jeri Ryan.  Jeri's gorgeous.  So there wasn't much that they could do in season three to hide that.  Instead, they just reduced her scenes and put her in some ugly clothes (which she still looked great in).

Jeri's Kate really wasn't needed since Doll Face Megan was not doing autopsies but instead chasing down bad guys.  Doll Face was forever being victimized and waiting to be rescued.  Audiences also had to endure the brainy and smart Megan facing the fact that she was wrong.  That was a plot for not just one episode of season three but two. Allowing Tommy to caution Megan, steer her away from being a smarty.

See Doll Face can't be too smart, might run off the boys.  Smart girls don't always get the hot guy.

And men who worked on 24 never learned to respect women, especially not smart  women.

Not a single episode had aired but, in June of last year, Evan Katz was already proclaiming to people that Body of Proof was no longer Dana Delaney's show.  Mark Valley was her "male co-lead."  Katz and the other producers --all men -- just knew that what audiences wanted to see was Megan cowed.  Katz publicly laughed that Megan "can't run over this guy" about Mark Valley's Tommy.  Or as executive producer Matthew Gross put it about Tommy, "We wanted to create a character that would stand up to her."

Katz referred to it as "a reboot."

So Doll Face was all about the smart -- but not smart enough not to get into hair brained scrapes -- Megan forever needing Tommy to rescue her.  And Tommy might have sex with other women but, as part of the 'taming' of Megan, her sex life was over.  No more boyfriends. And she can't even have sex with Tommy.  In the midst of her second virginity, she does once consider having sex in season three -- only to have a plane fall out of the sky.

Is that not a message from on high?

Doll Face was all about weakness, victim identity and how much Dana Delany could swing her ass back and forth in one episode.

In all the years Evan Katz was with 24, we doubt he ever felt the need to find a female "co-lead" for Kiefer Sutherland.  Nor did he ever feel the need to find an actress that Jack Bauer 'couldn't run over.' Kiefer was never required to sling his ass back and forth while delicately walking around, hands in the air.

But somehow -- sexism -- Katz thought this is what Body of Proof's loyal viewers wanted from the show and from Dr. Megan Hunt.

Now that the experiment is rightly seen as a massive failure, the Water Cooler Set that was all over these changes, gushing about them, thrilled with them, that same Water Cooler Set wants to pretend like they weren't.

But they were because sexism is at the root of so much of media 'discussions.  It's why the cowing of women, the true focus of the fall and spring season, was never an issue among the many -- mainly male -- TV 'critics.'  We tackled the topic throughout the fall leading into our December 30th piece "TV: The New Conformity."

In that one, we noted how Whitney had lost her job and was now dependent upon her 'husband' for money (and eager to solve problems by providing sex), we noted how Reagan and Ava both lost their jobs on Up All Night and Reagan turned into a stay-at-home mom, we noted how Jess lost her teaching job on New Girl  . . .

The Water Cooler Set told you in the fall of 2011 that the story was women can do everything and men are victims.  But we never saw any super-strong women.  We saw women doing what women do every day.  Apparently, on TV that's shocking.  And women not waiting around an empty home all day for the kids and the husband to come home, was somehow threatening to the suits.  So the following fall was all about stripping women of their jobs and their strength.

Body of Proof bombed in season three because the audience didn't want a cowed Megan Hunt.

They loved that she was smart, they loved that she was an adult, they loved that she had lovers.

And this point was made when the highest episode of the season was the one that revolved not around Doll Face but around Kate.  Jeri Ryan's character went to a party where she encountered guest star Ivan Sergei.  The two immediately clicked and immediately had sex.

Then a young woman turns up dead.  Jeri brings Ivan in to help them translate the dead woman's note.  Then it turns out Ivan might be the killer.  Kate's really the only one who can get the evidence so she does.  At the end, Ivan's not the killer and he and Kate hope to see each other again.

There was no eternal damnation for the one night stand.  Life did not end because Kate had sex.  Most important on that Jeri Ryan starring episode?  The second half hour.  Body of Proof in season three was all about losing the audience and not just the ones who stopped watching but the ones who would quit watching during the episodes, in the middle of the episode, the number of people watching would be much lower.

But on the Kate episode?  People weren't turning the show off, they watched all the way through.

Because a smart, gutsy and, yes, sexual woman didn't frighten them off.  In fact, their admiration for that was why they watched Body of Proof in the first place.

ABC's trying to shop around the show to cable and the Water Cooler Set is back to pimping.  One of the idiots is claiming that the show has a built in 12 million viewers.  Did he not see the ratings for season three (which concludes **Tuesday May 28th**)?  The reality is that there's probably not more than five million viewers -- if that -- if the show goes to cable.  If it could get on Fox or The CW, it could pull it in an audience like it does on ABC.  For The CW, it could give them an older skewing show that would allow them to have a hit along the lines of 7th Heaven and Fox could really use the show on Friday nights where it's having no luck.  But if the show does continue, it most likely will be on cable.  The only real question is whether it will return as the classic Body of Proof or be the second season of Doll Face?


Ava and C.I. note, article corrected to note the show concludes May 28th not, as we wrongly stated, May 21st.  Our apologies for our error.  That was our mistake.

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