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ABC Serial Killing: Less Than ‘Zero’

It’s never particularly fair to pick on a network simply because it has had a couple of series conspicuously fail, which certainly hasn’t stopped anyone from turning NBC into a pinata.

Still, ABC’s quick hook for “Zero Hour” — coming on the heels of sinking “Last Resort” — does, indeed, merit a second look. As my colleague Jon Weisman detailed, the network’s woes in the hour preceding “Grey’s Anatomy” are well documented. But what’s more notable is ABC keeps failing with a certain type of program, a pattern that might turn into its own kind of self-fulfilling prophecy with apocalyptic (in TV terms, anyway) implications.

Simply put, ABC has offered ambitious serialized dramas like “Flash Forward,” “Last Resort” and now “Zero Hour” (I’ll give them a pass on “Missing,” which the network sought to characterize after the fact as a limited series), then killed them prematurely. And as some have noted, the perception investing in one of these shows is very unlikely to yield satisfaction regarding the central mystery is the sort of deterrent that can keep certain viewers from sampling them in the first place.

A brief word about my sister-in-law, who is one of those binge-viewing Neflix users you’ve been hearing so much about. Despite my urging she was reluctant to begin watching “Lost” until she knew the producers could genuinely pay it off. Having heard bad things about the finale (some of them from me), she decided never to bother starting with it.

But at least “Lost” went the distance. In the case of “Zero Hour,” those who endured the first three installments (after a premiere whose low ratings qualified as its own Valentine’s Day massacre) are unlikely to ever know whether the world gets destroyed or, barring that, Anthony Edwards’ poor sap at least gets his kidnapped wife back.

Personally speaking, having been enthusiastic about the “Last Resort” pilot only to see the show almost immediately begin taking on water creatively, I feel more obliged than usual to hedge in praising new serialized ABC dramas based on only an episode or two. Fool me once, as they say….

ABC does deserve credit for daring to keep braving these waters, commissioning projects that go beyond cookie-cutter procedurals. (Granted, there’s a kind of cookie-cutter serialized drama formula as well, but also more risk — and thus more guts — involved in this sort of enterprise.)

Still, one has to wonder whether ABC needs to devise contingency plans for these shows that include a better-orchestrated exit strategy, whether that means being able to pivot to craft a wrap-up episode (potentially to be paired with reruns on one of its sister cable networks), or perhaps a summer run where the showrunner can appear at the end to discuss where the program might have gone, a la “The Talking Dead.”

While that might sound like throwing good money after bad, if people begin avoiding such shows because they fear a lack of closure due to cancellation, balking at such a relatively modest investment might be a classic case of being penny-wise, and pound-foolish. Or in this case, “Zero” ventured, nothing gained.

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