Sometimes in life, it’s better to fail big than to achieve moderate success. In television, the annual race to be the biggest failure comes after the start of the fall season … when the first new show gets canceled.
This year’s biggest loser is “Lone Star,” a FOX dramatic soap about a con artist living a pair of separate lives among the dirty dealings in Dallas. “Lone Star” wasn’t a flop in the style of “South of Sunset” — the infamous detective show starring Glenn Frey of The Eagles. It lasted one episode back in 1993.
For one thing, “Lone Star” lasted twice as long, with FOX pulling the plug after its second episode Monday night. But the real reason that “Lone Star” will serve as a cautionary tale is that it was perhaps the most highly praised new series by critics across the country who predict such things.
“Lone Star” was high-concept. It has a breakout star in the lead, and a big name (Jon Voight) in a key supporting role. It was edgy, with its man leading a double-life turmoil. It was going to make a splash.
Then it aired. Opposite “Dancing With The Stars,” “Two And A Half Men” and the other high-concept, edgy, splashy, critically admired new show of the season, NBC’s “The Event.” In the wrong time slot on the wrong day of the week, “Lone Star” never had a chance.
That’s not to say it was a good show. I saw the first episode and, frankly, wouldn’t go back for seconds. Part of the problem was that it’s not enough to be edgy or splashy; you have to have something that compels an audience to look in your direction.
The other problem has to do with a word I used in the second paragraph … “soap.” Serial dramas can have traditional soap opera elements and be successful (“Mad Men” is the most obvious current example). But in a time in our culture where daytime soaps are circling the drain, scripted “reality” series give viewers all the interpersonal melodrama they can stomach, and the cable airwaves are filled with strident screamers demonizing politicians and public figures — a show such as “Lone Star” seems, well, quaint.
And so, one of the most-anticipated new shows of the TV season becomes its first casualty. Which is better, in this twisted way, than lasting a full season before disappearing without fanfare.