Thursday, April 14, 2005

What makes a hit?

What makes a TV (non-reality) hit? Why ask me? I don't know. Indeed, before the fact, no one knows. After the fact, it seems obvious. Solid premise, good writing, intriguing plots, fascinating characters, top-notch acting, that sort of stuff.

I was just thinking about this while watching Futurama. It had a 72-episode run on Fox, but never quite was a hit. I've been watching reruns on the Cartoon Network and I think I have a clue as to why.

Creator Matt Groening (also a creator of The Simpsons) complained Fox never got behind the series. Considering it had several years to find its audience, this is silly. (Besides, Groening should get on his knees every day and thank heaven for how well Fox has treated him.)

Futurama is actually a pretty good show. The animation is great, the joke-writing is solid and the plots are extremely imaginative. So what is missing?

It's the characters. The main three are Fry, Leela and Bender. Fry is too stupid, Leela is too colorless and Bender (a robot) is essentially a jerk. None of them are lovable. None of them are even sympathetic.

Rules are meant to be broken, but when you go against a central rule--that characters should be sympathetic, that you should root for them--you're asking for trouble.

Next week I'll explain why The Sopranos works so well.

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