Scheduling Isn’t ‘Enlightened’s’ Ratings Problem

As my colleague Stuart Levine reports, HBO has acknowledged that the ratings for “Enlightened” and “Bored to Death” have been disappointing on Mondays.

As I stated in my initial review, the lack of an audience was expected, and the scheduling had nothing to do with it.

Now, I don’t take a great deal of pleasure in this. In fact, since that review — having seen the first four Enlightened11episodes — I’ve watched the next four, and found more to like in the series, including the at-times heartbreaking performance of writer/co-creator Mike White as the office nerd who befriends the protagonist played by Laura Dern. At one point, for example, he mentions being alone, and that some people are “more alone than others.”

Even so, this was, from the get-go, a series so narrowly tailored in its tone and subject matter as to be challenged to find air even in the rarefied world of basic cable. Defining the concept is as difficult as getting a handle on the storytelling, and the indignities Dern’s character experiences week after week make the series not a lot of fun to watch, even if you admire its execution.

Whether there’s a lesson in this for HBO remains to be seen. While I’d hate to see its comedies emulate the big concepts thrown around on Showtime, they do appear to be especially low-wattage — particularly compared to dramas like “Boardwalk Empire” (more on that, which continues to impress, in a future post), “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood.”

HBO used to feature the slogan “It’s not TV,” nd you certainly wouldn’t find “Enlightened” — or another little-seen show like “Treme” — anywhere else. As a critic, I’d hate to see the network stop taking those kind of creative risks.

Even so, the main lesson from “Enlightened” might be that while it’s fine to do a show that’s off-Broadway, you can’t completely change the laws of commercial television by programming it with the equivalent of equity-waiver theater.

 

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