Apr 9 2009 4:32pm

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!)

Dave Thompson
1. DKT
Yeah, I've seen the first episode of this finally, and am curious about the rest of the season/series, but they really messed up on David. I don't know if it's the casting or the script but he's too much of bore and not enough of a charismatic badass rock god.

There's some other issues, but I think that's really the show's main problem (other than time slots and a network that no longer seems to believe in it). That said, some of it (Ian McShane) is fascinating.
2. Altari
I'm in love with the show. I never saw the Subway ads (Subway? Really?) but we saw it for MONTHS in pre-movie ads in the theater.

It's more than a little trite, but that's OK. It's well produced, the actors are better than average and the story is engaging. They also managed to craft a pilot episode that was free of the typically wretched character introduction that haunts network TV.
Maggie M
3. Eswana
I love this show!!! What a shame. There are some great characters and myriad of possibilities.... boo hiss NBC. I guess there's got to be a Firefly every decade, eh?
- -
4. heresiarch
The problem with David is you always know he's going to do the Right Thing: he's going to selflessly fling himself between the rock and the hard place and beg them both to just give peace a chance, man. He's perfect and predictable, and therefore boring. Silas, Jack, Samuels, the Queen--they're complex and unpredictable, and that's what makes them interesting to watch.
Melissa Ann Singer
5. masinger
I watch a lot of NBC generally (Law & Order in its various incarnations, Medium, Chuck) and therefore saw a lot of commercials for Kings, and was attracted not a whit. Nothing in the commercials said "alternate history" and it looked like a lot of stuff blowing up combined with a mobster story.

Not that I'm averse to programs that feature things blowing up, mind you, but I've never been a big fan of mob fiction (probably because my father took me to see The Godfather when I was 12 and the shock scarred me for life).

Anyway, it was completely un-attractive to me as a viewer. The reviews made the show sound mildly interesting, but not enough to make me give up The Simpsons or The Amazing Race.
Eugene Myers
6. ecmyers
I also was never even remotely interested in the show, despite my love for alternate history. It had two strikes from the start: Biblical allegory and what looked like some sort of military theme. So maybe that was a flaw in their marketing... I might have been tempted to give it a try anyway, but I'm already at critical mass on current shows (though some cancellations may soon fix that). I haven't even tried Castle yet, which appeals only because Nathan Fillion plays a writer.
Melissa Ann Singer
7. masinger
Castle's okay, but more for the woman than for Fillion. As usual, the writer stuff is pretty silly--the launch party in the first episode had us howling, especially since the book didn't hit stores until 2 or 3 episodes later . . . .
rick gregory
8. rickg
I think there are only so many 'slow building, need to watch from close to the beginning to make sense of it' series that people can take. A series like that is a commitment and it has to justify that effort.

I guess I'm also a bit perplexed why NBC thought a Biblical allegory would fly at this point in time. Honestly? 2002 wouldn't have surprised me. But with the flip in political culture we've seen/are seeing it seems like a series that arrived after its time.
Tara Mitchell
9. Jaxicat
Dateline is basically Candid Camera disguised as a news magazine. Celebrity Apprentice is a bunch of rich and famous people doing fake challenges for Donald Trump in order what exactly is the point of this show?

Too bad about Kings, I don't watch much television but I was following this show.
Ian H
10. Moewicus
"I don't know if it's the casting or the script but he's too much of bore and not enough of a charismatic badass rock god."

The problem is 2000 years of Christianity, which the original David didn't have to appeal to in order to (try) and get ratings. He would say "love thy enemy? What? No, I think I'll cut this Goliath guy's head off and show it to his friends."

Note: I am an amateur biblical scholar, which is to say I have not read the relevant parts of the bible...
11. LoveKingsfromNY
I was waiting for the show Sunday night, but it never came on..hence my voracious search for news about schedule change...I really enjoy the show for its purely entertainment value, like the actors and who cares whether they live up to the biblical story (c'mon people)...hopefully sci-fi or hbo or another cable station will pick it up if nbc says nbc...
Allyn Edgar Hughes
12. allynh
The story is not alternate history, the events are clearly set at least a century from now when the world has recovered from a disaster/meltdown in current society. That's why King's is sliding into obscurity. It is hitting too close to home.

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