The Masked Scheduler, whose secret identity many have gleaned, posted his take on what happened with Fox's "Lone Star." I have a lot of respect for Mr. Masked, but I feel like for all his behind-the-scenes expertise, he misfires in a few places.
1) For one thing, he says that he and his colleagues aren't "pointing fingers," right as he points several of them at the nation's TV critics. I don't know if Masked has an axe to grind, but something's up there.
2) I don't know a single critic whose review would be influenced by "when network executives use the word 'cable' to describe the series' sensibility." The critics who came to that conclusion came to it on their own.
3) Most critics merely review the quality of the show, rather than weighing in (in any significant way) about whether the show is going to be a hit or succeed. Now, it does happen that Brian Lowry of Variety is tasked with assessing a show's potential. In his review, he neared his conclusion with "the question of whether the program can capitalize on its 'House' lead-in in one of TV's most competitive timeslots, including NBC's most ambitious newcomer, 'The Event.' " So he hardly had blinders on.
One of the ongoing themes at the Television Critics Assn. press tour this summer was the risk of investing in serialized shows that can be pulled or burn out before they reach their conclusion. "Serial Skepticism" was the lead story of our fall TV preview section last month in Variety. I'll be the first to cop to thinking that "Lone Star" was going to make it, but the idea that some vast majority of critics were blindsided by its failure – that, as M.S. writes, "expectations started to far exceed the reality of the show's potential" – is, to me, entirely invented. People just liked it, is all.
4) The issue of the very timeslot that made the fate of "Lone Star" so precarious is dismissed rather quickly. Yeah, other shows in different timeslots struggled, but there is certainly an argument for giving your highest quality new drama a better chance. Maybe "Lone Star" on Fridays only earns the fate of "Dollhouse," but then again, maybe it earns the fate of "Dollhouse."
5) Early on, M.S. writes about being in Kansas, "It was refreshing to be in an environment where I did not see one billboard for a network show." Later, he writes, "I don't think that there was a marketing campaign that would have significantly pumped up the ratings." The Irony Committee approves.
It seems pretty clear that Masked Scheduler would have been shocked for "Lone Star" to survive, and on that note, he is more savvy than I. On the other hand, throwing raspberries at critics who did nothing more than tout the show's quality and write obituaries upon its demise – putting in print some of the same thoughts that Fox people certainly must have speculated about at some point about behind closed doors – is rather ridiculous.
"Sorry critics, 'Lone Star was never going to be a 'hit.' " Uh, who said it was? The critics just said it was good, and believe me, critics are very familiar with a show they like not succeeding with the general public. It's not just silly, it's just plain wrong to argue that critics who are measuring a show's quality should suddenly say, "Hey maybe we just missed the mark on this one" after it was canceled. Cancelation didn't change the script, the acting, the direction, the production values or the donuts at the craft services table.
Thinking that "Lone Star" riding off into the sunset is a shame, thinking that this could lead to more carbon-copy TV, does not mean critics don't get what happened. It does not mean that critics think they have this transformative power over the American viewer. Believe me, they get it – in this day and age, more than ever.