Thursday, March 10, 2011

TV Shows That Survived Cast Overhauls

The quality of pop culture writing on the interwebs is generally poor. Some sites, notably the Onion AV Club, Slate, and the Atlantic, churn out some really great stuff on a consistent basis. But others are seemingly obsessed with making lists- so obsessed that the lists usually turn out to be pure and utter crap.

This list ( really caught my eye because it showed a shocking lack of critical analysis, and really just seemed designed to get some site traffic in the wake of the current Charlie Sheen debacle. I think the point the writer is trying to make is that many television shows have survived major cast changes, but the list is so scattershot and so devoid of anything approaching intelligent analysis that it falls flat on its face.

Look at some of these awful choices:

22. Singled Out- A game show on the MTV of yesteryear when they still played music videos. Does replacing one secondary host (Jenny McCarthy) with another (Carmen Electra) after one season and producing another season really count as success? We're not talking about a show that was A) Amazingly popular (with or without McCarthy) or B) Really relied on the wit and charm of its host.

20. Blue's Clues- A show for kids who are too young to change the channel. I really don't find the fact that parents continued to plop junior down in front of this show even after the host changed to really be that meaningful. (Especially if you're comparing this to a primetime sitcom)

17. Superboy- I'm a big nerd, and even I didn't realize they changed Superboy between season one and season two. You know why? Because this show was on for all of two seconds, and no one liked it. Sure it "survived" after a cast change, but "survive" is being used extremely loosely.

16. Talk Soup- This one's actually the opposite of what they're trying to prove. Talk Soup, the progenitor of The Soup, died for all intents and purposes after John Henson left. I remember watching through the dark times that were the Hal Sparks and Aisha Tyler seasons. The show dropped off the map, and was shelved for a really long time before being heavily revamped by Joel McHale and company. This show is more proof that a show won't survive a cast change based on it's own popularity alone, rather than proof that shows can successfully survive cast changes.

15. The Price Is Right - I'm skeptical of this mostly because I find Drew Carrey to be a fat soulless turd of a human being with the charm of a pebble (and not a shiny pebble either). Are there people who watch the current version of Price is Right and don't long for the days of Bob Barker? This seems more like a show that survives based on inertia and a complete lack of competition, rather than because Drew Carrey has successfully replaced Bob Barker.

13. Sliders - Um didn't this show get cancelled almost immediately after its first major cast change? Sure, it got picked up by the Sci-Fi channel and died a miserable miserable death after a few years that no one who lived above ground watched, but I wouldn't put this show on a list of shows that "survived" cast changes.

5. Star Trek- This one is a personal pet peeve. I hate nerds who feel the need to point out useless bits of common knowledge trivia in an attempt to seem smart/hip/cool. Yes, Shatner wasn't the Captain of the Enterprise in the series' pilot. No one cares. Cast changeovers from the pilot episode to actual series happen all the time. I remember watching a version of the Buffy pilot at comic-con one year where Charisma Carpenter was Buffy and Sarah Michelle Gellar was Cordelia. It's irrelevant, and certainly doesn't count as an actual cast change. The fact that Shatner was the main character from the actual first episode all the way until the end of the series makes this one a completely meaningless entry.

TV shows can and do survive cast changeovers, and the list has a couple of strong entries that prove that point. (Most notably E.R., Charlie's Angles, and Law and Order) But rather than really hit the nail on the head of why these changes worked, the list is too concerned with making a list for the sake of making a list.

I long for the days when blogging wasn't considered a legitimate form of journalism. It's just something cranky people like me do when they're bored at their desk.

P.S. The reason those shows survived cast changes is simple. It's because the cast didn't matter in the first place. Take the ultimate example Law and Order. The characters on the show aren't characters. They have no personality traits beyond, "gruff police officer" or "smart prosecutor." In fact, the few episodes that have tried to make the characters seem like actual people are notorious as some of the worst of the series. (Need I even mention, "Are you firing me because I'm a lesbian?") They have no motivations, no back-stories, or anything else that makes them different from interchangeable parts in a greater machine.

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