Fox has gone and canceled their big dinotopia familytime show Terra Nova. This is not exactly a surprise now, in light of its poor ratings and all, but it certainly would have been back in September when everyone was crowing about Fox's big new Steven Spielberg dinosaur series. That? Canceled so soon? In this TV landscape, we're afraid so.
Terra Nova wasn't a particularly good or bad show. Really it was a weirdly retrograde, oftentimes groaningly corny series that was entertaining about half the time. But its ambition was absolutely admirable, so we're a little bummed to see it go. And a bit distressed too, as it seems to be yet another example of the slow and painful death of our old hour-long swear-free friend, the network drama. And, in fact, it may be that very ambition that's doing it in.
In 2003, NBC unveiled a miniseries that they planned to turn into a full series called Kingpin, about a Mexican-American crime family. The show was a blatant Sopranos wannabe, perhaps marking the first time, in any significant way, that a network had so obviously copycatted a cable series. This ushered in years' worth of other pale imitators, from Cane to Cashmere Mafia to Lipstick Jungle to The Playboy Club to Pan Am. The networks — though obviously enjoying some drama bright spots like Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives (way to go, ABC) — have been trying to play catch-up with cable for nearly a decade and, time and time again, they've failed miserably. It might be a little more difficult to argue that Terra Nova is a cable imitator, but really, would it have gotten made without the critical success of Battlestar Galactica? Trouble is, that was a dark and risky show that, in its existing form, no network would have (or even could have) touched with a 10-foot pole. And maybe the realization is that, in light of this latest flop, a souped-up but necessarily dumbed-down imitator, they shouldn't have. Maybe the networks needed to scale back on their ambition.