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May 19, 2008

Why 'Moonlight' needed killin'


“Very poor judgment call for CBS to have made. You weren't calculating accurately. At the NY Comic Con...it received an enormous crowd screaming for Season 2. You will kick yourself in the rear end with this grievous error! Reconsider your decision, CBS!” 

That’s one of 93 hyperventilating comments on THR.com’s story of the “Moonlight” cancellation last week. Actually, it’s the very top comment -- you don’t need to burrow far down into the list to get the general idea.

“Moonlight” fans have always been scary-intense. They organized a national blood drive to try to save the show. With CBS lowering the axe, they went apocalyptic. They’re angrily emailing complaints to CBS, the media and even its studio, Warner Bros. (and the studio is, of course, the one party that’s actually trying to save the show). 

In a sense, so much passion cannot be wrong. Any program that inspires this much intensity is inherently effective … even if it’s about a shirtless vampire with billowy hair and dreamy abs caught in an impossible forbidden romance with the one human who’s captured his heart.

So “Moonlight” has a devoted fan base and, sure, it deserves an afterlife … somewhere. But it did not deserve a second season on CBS. Some shows need killin’ and “Moonlight” was one of them.

The problem wasn’t the “Moonlight” ratings, precisely.

At first, the word from within CBS was that “Moonlight” would likely return. But then the numbers started going south. In the past few weeks, “Moonlight” won its time period, sure, but against mostly repeats. Even Friday’s season finale -- as if to underscore CBS’ decision -- hit a record-low 1.8 rating among adults 18 to 49.

If the “Moonlight” episodes were entirely self-contained stories, like CBS lead-in “Ghost Whisperer” and lead-out “Numbers,” a pickup could have been tempting. But “Moonlight” is semi-serialized, and ratings for such shows usually only trend one direction. Once viewers step out of an ongoing story line, they rarely step back in. This has been the case with “Lost,” “Heroes,” “Battlestar Galactica” and, yup, that CBS harbinger of cult-TV doom, “Jericho.”

Serialized shows also tend to suffer if there's any major scheduling gap. Based on how its cult-driven, sci-fi predecessors have performed, it was extremely unlikely “Moonlight” would return to higher numbers next fall. The show was going down by the head and CBS rightfully bailed.

Plus, with CBS’ “let’s get back in our box” programming strategy for next fall, “Moonlight” doesn’t fit. “Moonlight” would have stuck out on the schedule as a low-rated hangover from last season’s new experimental shows that didn’t work.

Does “Moonlight” have a chance someplace else? Producer Warner Bros. is still approaching cable nets, such as TNT. They’re scouting states where the show could be shot cheaper. There’s still a chance, albeit a very slim one.

The show’s overall cost makes it a tough sell. A lower-rated net might splurge to try and buy “Moonlight” for some publicity and fresh viewers. But star Alex O’Loughlin probably wouldn’t follow the series to anything less than a major cable net. Thanks to “Moonlight,” O’Loughlin is now in demand and is likely to wind up on another major series -- if he doesn’t stay hitched to the vampire drama.


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