For Kings, the Bell Tolls: A Schedule Change, and What NBC is Doing Wrong

Kings is unofficially deposed. Ratings aren’t what NBC feels they should be, so starting April 18, they’ll be burning off the remaining Season One episodes on Saturday nights.

There’s no point in asking if the move could possibly save the show—if a plot point unfolds in the forest of Saturday-night TV, no one can hear it—so NBC has basically put the pricey alternate universe series out to pasture.

Why this is Kings‘ fault: They have structured too much of the show around a bland lead—a common TV trope.

Why this is NBC’s fault: Everything else.

Kings seemed, from the beginning, to be NBC’s bid to capture the growing cable-drama audience. It’s a high-production-value, high-concept speculative drama that would be right at home on HBO or Showtime (are you listening, guys?), where 3.6 million viewers is considered a decent showing and not a dismal one. It’s an alternate universe built on Biblical allegory, with dozens of characters and so many plotlines that the first three episodes did little more than set them up to unspool throughout the season.

Unfortunately, network TV these days has no patience for a show whose audience builds slowly through word of mouth, no matter how strong the critical reaction is or how vocal the fanbase, as we know from prematurely cancelled series [insert your own gone-too-soon show name here]. If the show doesn’t deliver huge numbers in the first three weeks, it’s a goner.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that’s fair dealing—after all, a show should be gripping no matter when one tunes in. The show (which is rumored to cost as much as $4 million an episode) is a serious investment on the part of the network. Wouldn’t it make sense to promote the show accordingly? And yet, besides the vague NYC subway ads, I didn’t hear a whisper about the show, and had to go digging for information about it because the show’s own website had no information available. Even now, if you want promotional stills for anything but the pilot, you have to hit fan communities, because the network can’t be bothered to put their own promotional material on the show’s website.

Don’t get us wrong; even as fans of the show we’re not blind to its missteps, not least of which is the too-slow burn that will turn David from a pawn to a hero. However, the supporting cast is stellar (Ian McShane, Eamonn Walker, AND Wes Studi, for heaven’s sake!), and the unfolding plots only get more interesting with every episode. The conceit is interesting enough to add subtext to the show without being a one-trick pony, and its world of high-impact, low-FX science fiction, it felt like an important litmus test for wider audience interest. I truly wish they hadn’t let a slow start grind the possibilities of an entire genre to a halt. (It’s got to be cheaper than Heroes, right?)

Rather than letting it sit in its own time slot a little longer and tacking some promotion onto its other shows, NBC will be replacing Kings with episodes of Dateline (what?), hoping for better lead-in numbers to Celebrity Apprentice (what?), whose ratings have apparently also been slipping, a slide for which NBC blame Kings (…what?).

And networks wonder why HBO and Showtime are siphoning their audiences. Thanks for the vote of confidence, NBC.

(Note to HBO: I have a show you might be interested in! 3.6 million viewers built in. Call me!)

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