Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Commander in Chief dies a quiet (and messy) death

Tonight played the first of the three last unaired episodes of "Commander in Chief", a show that started out great and then was quickly and astronomically torpedoed by bad decision making at the executive level of television programming. I happened to accidentally stumble upon the episode, because it was so carefully swept under the radar that ABC probably didn't want to make too much of a fuss over the fact that it was on the air at all.

Much has been reported about how "Commander in Chief" went from highest rated and thereby most promising new show of the 2005-2006 season to ratings trainwreck just five months after its premiere. Now, as it slowly crawls toward cancellation, I'm not sure there's much to salvage save for the lesson this taught networks about how easily their own messed up politics destroy potentially good shows. The show was born under the auspices of Rod Lurie (hey, I'm still holding out for "Line of Fire" on DVD), and then he was removed by ABC in favor of Steven Bochco, who apparently had an attitude about how he wanted things done on this show that he hadn't created, and now he's been removed in favor of Dee Johnson (I guess the only person left standing), apparent apprentice of Lurie's and trying her best to restore the show's original look and style.

I stuck with the show from the beginning, and it definitely has its weak spots. After having fervently watched the first four seasons of "The West Wing" over the last three months courtesy of Netflix, I think the bar has been raised pretty high with regards to American presidential dramas. "Commander in Chief" had a lot of potential, but got severely sidetracked with Bochco's warped ninety-degree vision of where he wanted to take it. Lurie's style had an ice-slick and pop edge to it, and the storylines setup for the show were nontraditional and seemed focused more on family and interpersonal relations than inter-White House politics. Bochco came in and lightened the place up, enforced a more episodic structure to the stories, and whitewashed away Lurie's unique style and vision in favor of bland and predictable President-and-Nation-in-trouble stories. Then he mysteriously left, and then Johnson (who'd been with the show since the start) stepped up and picked up where Lurie left off. I think had that first shakeup not happened, it's likely "Commander"'s fate would have been somewhat different. If the show had more room to breathe and another season on the horizon, I think that it could have made up for lost time and started to challenge itself to become a great show. Certainly it looks like that's the direction it's moving in (behaving, almost, as if it doesn't know it's about to end); Donald Sutherland plays his Oval Office-hungry role with such effortless slime that it's almost uncomfortable to watch, and now that Geena Davis has vowed to assert her power against him, it looks like a lot of fun could be had.

I guess the only reason that ABC is airing the last episodes (yanked from the schedule last month for some reality-programming filler) is because they're under obligation to.... but they're certainly going out of their way not to advertise them because the show has become an embarrassment. I would argue so not because of the low ratings, but because of its deconstruction by their own bloody hands. Now it ends very, very quietly during the television-hangover wasteland of June programming.

But wait.... ABC is feeling remorseful? Rumor has it that there is interest in resurrecting the show as a TV movie sometime next season, with hopes that it might rekindle the series under the helm of Rod Lurie again. Strangely, this looks like the makings of basically rewriting Lurie's own The Contender (2000), an excellent movie that obviously spurned the nascent mechanics of "Commander in Chief".... but who knows? Maybe it could give the show another shot.


Writeprocrastinator said...

I don't understand why ABC and Lurie would go through this again. They pulled the rug out from under him before with "Line of Fire"
A show that was good, but I had to look up the title because it came and went so fast.

Think "Wiseguy" crossed with "C-16," another show that ABC didn't give half a chance before moving the viewing nights around until the audience couldn't find it or gave up. It had Leslie Hope from the first season of "24" and David Paymer as a villain that took about six shows to belive that he could play a sinister enough villain.

ABC hyped it up as a mid-season show, then proceeded to show it on three different nights in three succesive weeks. I've read that the ABC suits weren't behind it because of Lurie's quirky nature and that's part of the reason I never started with "Commander in Chief." They don't get his non-linear plotting and quirks, why would they subject the poor man to all of this again?

More importantly, why would he bother?

is that so wrong? said...

I rather enjoyed "Line of Fire" when it was on the air and was sad to see it go. I do remember that the series finale went out with quite a bang though. I think waiting for it on DVD is a lost cause.

Writeprocrastinator said...

"I think waiting for it on DVD is a lost cause."

Quite. Why is it on VHS and not DVD, I have no idea. To top the oddness off, if you follow the IMDB-link, you will see Robert DeNiro in the box-cover jpg.