4 Ways a Show Can Lose Viewership: Good Luck, New Girl

You know what show I love? New Girl. You know what show I am scared will soon fail? New Girl. The first season captivated me, as it was able to mix the doe-eyed and (ugh) ‘adorkable’ humour of Jess, the morose sarcasm of on-screen love interest Nick and the oft madcap antics of roommates Schmidt and Winston to create a loveable, hilarious programme. The second season was just as good in terms of the narrative, and the heating up of the Jess-Nick relationship was both hilarious and quite sexy, but I felt this little twinge in the pit of my stomach. Like the final girl in a horror movie opening the door to the basement, I could tell that something was wrong… but what?

When shows I like are picked up for a third or a fourth season, I am usually stoked. I mean, how could I not be happy that I can continue to enjoy a television show that has given me such joy in the past? My problem is, when series become popular, or even get just a little taste of fame, they start to make mistakes. Most often caused by aiming to please everyone at once, these mistakes cost shows in the long run, often leading to a loss in ratings that eventually results in cancellation. If the creators of New Girl are reading (they aren’t), and are ready to listen to my advice (they’re not), here are the 4 most common ways a show can go off the rails and lose viewership.

4. Introduce a Bunch of New Characters (And Ignore Our Favourites)

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon A Time had an outstanding first season. I was a non-believer to start with, as I thought that the premise was a little hokey and that not everything needed a gritty remake, but I most certainly came around. Not only were the storylines compelling, and the character development beautifully nuanced, the actors seemed to really be enjoying the experience and giving it all they had. With all that, I could easily forgive the less-than-stellar CGI, I do it every week with Doctor Who. Then, the second season rolled in.

I was inordinately excited for the premiere. I don’t usually sit around and wait for television shows to begin, but for this one I was counting down the days. What happens now that the curse is broken? Will they ever get back home? Is Regina really evil? Ultimately, none of these questions mattered, as the third season was stuffed to the brim with new fairytale characters and ‘mysterious’ (but not really) side characters. Off the top of my head, they added to the already full ensemble cast over 8 recurring guest stars, all of whom took screen time from the already beloved series regulars (I want some time with Ruby and Grandma, damn it!).

Well, hello, Captain!
Well, hello, Captain!

Look, I get wanting to expand your horizons, and I will never argue against giving Captain Hook (Colin O’Donohue) a little screen time, but this was ridiculous. I really don’t care about the back story of the Giant, especially when we haven’t heard from Jiminy Cricket in months. I thought he was dead.

Friends was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and you know who it focused on? 6 people. 6 people for the whole run of the series. Sure, guest stars came and went, doing one episode cameos or character arcs, but the primary narrative focus was on the development of these 6 people. As soon as shows start adding in a bunch of new people, you split the fan base. Look what happened to Glee, as soon as some characters graduated, the show runners tried to focus on a million people at once and it just didn’t work. Ultimately, nobody is happy because no character gets enough screen time for true development to occur. Series’ like Game of Thrones can get away with this, first because George R.R Martin kills as many characters as he creates, and second, the show is more about the themes than the people. He can kill off *spoiler* and *spoiler’s wife, children, beloved pet fish*, because GOT is about war, love, loss and ambition, not the journey of one character (though, if he kills Tyrion, I will go on a rampage).

So, New Girl, please don’t pull focus from the main characters by introducing a bunch of wacky friends, neighbours or pets. You are fine on your own. Not every person a character meets has to have a back story. Sometimes, you can just move on.

3. Too Much Romantic Turmoil

key_art_parks_and_recreation

My favourite television show of all time is Parks and Recreation. If you haven’t watched it, stop reading this article right now and give the show a go (season three onwards is best).

My feelings when the casting news about Affleck came out.
My feelings when the casting news about Affleck came out.

I’ve mentioned it before in my articles, as it mixes broad humour (pie in the face) with nerdy references to television and film (buying a full Batman costume to treat yo’self). What it does beautifully though, is relationships. I’m not talking about the female friendships (while I’m here though, HALLELUJAH), I mean the romantic relationships that are portrayed with alternate humour and sensitivity. Let’s take Leslie and Ben and an example. There were obstacles to be overcome in their romance, as Ben was Leslie’s boss, and the revelation they were dating could ruin her campaign for office. However, love prevailed (very sexily) in the end. What makes this relationship unique, however, is that they have stayed together.

Television shows seem to have an aversion to couples being happy. It comes from the, frankly ridiculous, notion that a happily married couple has nowhere to go in the narrative aside from babies, babies, babies. This is why, whenever a beloved will-they-won’t-they coupled gets together, I start planning the funeral for their relationship. Friends. Veronica Mars. Once Upon a Time (I miss you Graham! Not you, Neal).

Almost as incestuous as the real Brady Bunch.
Almost as incestuous as the real Brady Bunch.

One of the worst offenders is Glee. Those kids are competing in some ridiculous competition to see who can have the most relationships before they finish high school (what’s the prize here? Syphilis?) Someone has to cheat, someone has to lie, someone has to move away. It is both exhausting, and an awful way to treat the fans who wait patiently (and not so patiently) for a little payoff for their months/years of watching.

Some would argue that romantic turmoil avoids Moonlight syndrome, where characters become less interesting after getting married or otherwise romantically attached (related to she short-lived show Moonlight). I have a huge problem with this theory, as plenty of excellent programs, Parks and Rec included, show couples being happy without losing viewership or narrative complexity. Moonlight syndrome is caused by lazy writers who have no idea of the inner workings of a real marriage, and think that once you are married off, you are as good as dead. If ratings fall after a couple unites, it’s not because togetherness isn’t interesting, it is because the writing has failed to entice the viewers.

Please, New Girl, now that Nick and Jess are dating, can you please let them be, at least for a little while? Focus some storylines on something other than their relationship, or have them work together to achieve something professionally, or for one of the other characters. Do anything, literally anything, except have the whole season be about how wrong they are for each other.

2. Flanderisation

The Simpsons Logo

You know that character who used to be really funny, but whom you now find to be sinfully annoying? This is probably a case of Flanderisation, where a character’s traits are exaggerated to such an extent that they become a parody of what they initially were.

I am legally obligated to use this picture with the caption "Stupid, sexy Flanders."
I am legally obligated to use this picture with the caption “Stupid, sexy Flanders.”

The term comes from Ned Flanders, of Simpsons fame, who evolved from a modest churchgoing, god-fearing man to a nigh evangelical, beatnik-hating super-Catholic who thinks all of the Harry Potter characters went to hell. Even though he is the trope namer, Flanders is actually a mild example, as his exaggerated characteristics are actually more acceptable within a cartoon context. It is the Flanderisation of real-world characters that tends to lower the ratings of popular television programs.

The most prominent example of this trope is the U.S version of The Office, which took the heightened realism of its predecessor and warped it into unrealistically cringe-worthy characters. The first few seasons were hilarious, but it was after season three, I believe, when the antics of Michael, Dwight and Jim began to grate. By the final season, Andy’s character had become Flanderised to such an extent that he was virtually unrecognisable. It was often uncomfortable to watch, as characters that I once loved were transformed into grotesque former versions of themselves that would not have looked out of place on The Walking Dead.

Might as well have been the whole 6th season.
Might as well have been the whole 6th season.

I love that Michael has no grace in social situations, but did you have to make him screw up every single conversation he has? With anyone? At any time? Jim Halpert was an amazing character, but then his conspiratorial grins became gratuitous smirks, as his whole story revolved around how much he didn’t like his job. Even real people become Flanderised, as the three presenters of original Top Gear have become cartoonish in their refusal to step outside of the stereotypes they have built around themselves. This isn’t a case of ‘you’ve made the bed, now lie in it.’ You can get out of the bed! LEAVE THE BED!

This is what I am most afraid of in New Girl. Jess is quirky. Nick is unmotivated. Schmidt is a douche. Winston… doesn’t get enough screen time to let me know anything about him except that he is African American. These traits have already been heightened for comedic effect on the show, which is understandable as they are finding their flow, but it needs to stop here. Use narrative to push the story, not contrived situations forced by magnifying one particular aspect of a character.

1. Kill Off Someone… For No Good Reason

(Some old spoilers below)

Downton Abbey

Screw you, Downton Abbey. The day after Christmas is meant to be spent shopping, eating and revelling in post-present glory, not curled up in the foetal position crying until there is no liquid left in your body. In case anyone missed it, Downton killed off arguably the most popular character on the show in their most recent Christmas special, the loveable and floppy haired Matthew Crawley. Why, you ask? Was it poetic justice? Revenge? Did the Lannisters send regards? No. The actor, Dan Stevens, wished to pursue a film career in the United States. Look, I don’t know Dan personally (surprise!), but I highly doubt that there was something so huge, so pressing, that he simply had to leave immediately. I mean, he is a floppy haired British actor; he won’t get work until Hugh Grant dies. There can only be one.

They broke his skull, it broke my heart. RIP.
They broke his skull, it broke my heart. RIP.

If that weren’t bad enough, he was killed off on a car crash. A car crash? Kill Matthew Crawley? He survived a world war in the trenches, and he is killed in badly executed collision? It isn’t even the 1920s yet, there are only about four cars on the road! It is clear that the show runners picked the most convenient and quick way to kill off a character, for the sake of the actor rather than the show or the audience. That is something I cannot forgive. If you want to leave the show, fine, but do it in a way that gives justice to the role that the characters plays. If he had to leave, I would have had him go to America for some convoluted reason, and have it be foregrounded in prior episodes. I watched that program faithfully from the beginning, and it was like the creators yelled ‘PSYCH!’ and punched me in the stomach. Bad form.

Another example, exclusive to Australia, is the ending of the most recent series of Offspring. Many of you won’t have seen this, but let’s just say it was a very similar situation to what I have just described. An actor wanted to go make something of himself in the U.S, so he left the series and his character was killed off. Hit by a car. Right before his wife had a baby. I call shenanigans on this whole business, as it is clear that the writers think this is a welcome change, as god-forbid characters be happy in a relationship (see segment 2).

Perhaps he is killed in a terrible frowning accident?
Perhaps he is killed in a terrible frowning accident?

I don’t think New Girl is in particular danger of this trope, but I think it is one that too many shows fall victim to, and it is a sure-fire way for viewership to drop off. I won’t be watching the new series of Offspring or Downton, not because they killed off the characters, but because they clearly don’t care about the audience. I don’t think that shows should always cater to what their viewers want, but to kill characters off in this way shows a distinct lack of respect. In other words, not cool, bro.

So, there they are. Four reasons why shows that can be ticking along like clockwork one week are almost dead by the next. One wonders exactly why these mistakes continue to be made, as the majority of the time they are not lucrative in the slightest. Are we catering to some nonexistent viewer who had the attention span of a gnat and cannot fathom a happy relationship? If so, why? Well, if current shows are unable to abide by the rules, I guess I’ll have to step in. In my world, Matthew lived, couples get a chance, characters are real and (while we are on the subject of failed writing) Dexter died. Breaking Bad stays as is.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I am a historical fiction aficionado from Australia who lives for Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Borgias...also Xena. Don't judge me.

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31 Comments

  1. Eleanor I.
    0

    I loved season 1, I was absolutely in love with this show when it first aired. Season 2 started off okay but became lack luster with terrible guest characters like Angie and Daisy. Cece and Schmidt pairing annoys the crap out of me, they just aren’t good together and honestly not a fan of Nick & Jess either. This season hasn’t made me laugh once, and tonight’s just made me really mad. This show seems to be a little like Glee in that to me it peaked in season one and was alright through season 2, but season 3 is becoming it’s downfall. I don’t know maybe it’s just me.

    • Marleen X
      0

      I disagree. I like Jess and Nick together and think the show is progressing nicely. Zooey has really developed a funny and lovable character.

  2. Shouldn’t this be “4 Ways a Show Can Lose Viewership: Good Luck, New Girl, and I see you Dexter” 😉

  3. Marleen X
    0

    Fun article but I disagree. New Girl keeps getting better. With Nick and Jess together there’s kind of a whole new dynamic. I think it breathed more life into the show. So far this season I’ve liked each episode more than the previous. Especially where Nick and Jess are concerned.

    • Kathryn Talbot

      I like Nick and Jess too, I think their dynamic thus far has been hilarious and romantic at the same time. My point was that I worry about how the writers will treat the relationship in the long term.

  4. rosalyn
    0

    I only started watching it halfway through Season 2, after a friend recommended it highly. I guess since I’m significantly older than the characters I didn’t figure I’d “get” it, although my friend is older than me and was a fan of the show. I tuned in and liked it, found it funny and likeable, and was looking forward to Season 3. So far, very disappointing. I used to watch THE MINDY PROJECT mainly because it came after NEW GIRL, but now I find “Mindy” funnier and more likeable than “New.” My friend says she’s stopped watching NEW GIRL because she finds it has gotten stupid and unfunny. I still like NEW GIRL show, but only lukewarmly.

  5. best article ever. agree about everythign

  6. Jessica Eve Kennedy

    I thought New Girl really improved for Season 2, and actually that’s what sold me on the show (although Schmidt and Cece have seriously gone downhill over – individually – in s2-3). I think New Girl has the potential to be great this season, and so long as they figure out what to do with Winston and sort Schmidt the hell out, it’ll be okay. They’ve made Schmidt utterly unsympathetic and unlikeable very quickly, and that’s bad news if they’re also going to under-use Winston and Cece as well. It’s like, if you don’t like Nick and Jess, the show is no longer going to give you anything.

    Parks – YES, YES, YES. Andy and April are my favourites. I remember being so happy and surprised at how quickly they married them off, but they seemed to just not stress about ensuring the longevity of the show and instead focus on their current content. (Although their keenness to pair everyone up is a little much, see: Ann Perkins.)

    And when it comes to The Office, I’m a huge fan. Andy became utterly unbearable by the end, that’s so incredibly true. But I loved what they did with Michael over the seasons, and the growth that they were able to give him with such a long-running show, and Pam, too, really benefitted from the length of the show. I think when Paul Lieberstein took over as showrunner (s5-8), the quality took a knock in terms of both arcs and comedic content. But I think Season 4 was a truly hilarious season, and Season 9 was just brilliant too (I think they got a lot of energy from knowing the end was nigh). Season 6 was straight-up bad though. I do love The Office, and think it did a decent job of holding up considering its longevity. I’m glad that one got the goodbye it deserved.

  7. Jessica Koroll

    Haven’t watched New Girl but I agree with each of your points. The last two, in particular, tend to make me very angry as there really isn’t any reason why they should be a thing. This was such a fun article to read!

  8. Robert Humphrey

    Personally, I could never really get into New Girl, but I agree with all of your points, numbers 3 and 1 in particular. Regarding number 3, I don’t always mind if a certain couple doesn’t last, but when the show revolves around either a couple constantly getting together and breaking up every season, or characters just sleeping their way around the entire season with every person in which they come in contact, it frustrates me greatly. Like you said, it’s simply writers being bad writers and not knowing what to do with those characters. Parks & Rec is a great example to combat this. The relationship between Leslie and Ben is great and it hasn’t had to be muddled by break-ups and hook-ups or cliche relationship issues. Their characters are actually going somewhere. I’m sure they’ll have a baby sometime (I’d be excited), but the writers didn’t rely on that just because they were married. They had them stay together when Ben went to DC (many other shows would use that as a catalyst to write a break-up storyline), and they’ve used Leslie’s campaign and time in office as a way to show the love between the two, unlike other shows who would try to show the love between a couple by forcing them to have a baby, or constantly giving us exclusive access only into their domestic lives.

    With regard to number 1… well, let’s just say I agree completely, especially about Downton Abbey, and leave it at that before I go on a complete tirade about my frustration and aggravation when shows do this.

  9. Lenore Bruder
    0

    With the new season premiere of P&R, I wish I liked it, but it was pretty bad in my opinion. I didn’t like the whole gang-goes-to-location plot line. Felt like a really dated, heavy-on-the-tired-formula sitcom to me from the outset.

    I was also left feeling down on Pawnee by the end of the episode. It was just a drag to be “back” at the close of the show. Leslie saying they should travel more seemed like an explanation as to why we will see a different kind of show this season, with less going on in Pawnee and more of the characters branching off in different directions.

    Too much explaining too. Explaining why Andy lost so much weight. His being offered a position in London felt like an explanation as to why we wouldn’t see him much this season. The real reason of course being that he is making a movie or movies.

    The show was too far away from what I grew to love – those characters in the office having dialogue and being funny. Tom was off at his store, Ann and Chris were off doing baby-related stuff. Ron was off on a solo adventure. Andy and Ben were off talking about the music charity. Too much splintering of the cast for my taste.

  10. yea the ending of offspring was kinda bullshit wasnt it

  11. Kelsey Clark

    I am constantly worried about all these things happening to great shows. I hope New Girl manages to show a healthy relationship, even for a while.

  12. Kevin Licht

    Liked the article and I completely agree with you about Parks & Rec, which I think I could legitimately argue to be the best television show on at the moment.

    There’s actually a great article that was written early this year about the romance aspect. I’ve always hated the will they?/won’t they aspect of many sitcoms. It’s as if all the writers think once you’re in a relationship is solid nothing else about the couple is interesting, which is part of why Parks & Rec has been so much better than every other comedy.

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8944768/new-girl-mindy-rise-romantic-sitcom

  13. Andy Cashmore

    *Possible spoilers for Big Bang Theory*

    Really enjoyed reading this article, especially as I have the same fears as you. The wonderful thing about Season 2 was the lead up to whether Nick and Jess would or wouldn’t, and after they did I had a sense of ‘now what?’ Big Bang Theory is having this problem with every character pairing off with a girlfriend, so much so that I was relieved (although saddened) that Raj’s relationship didn’t work out too well.

    I really hope the writers of New Girl don’t send Nick and Jess down the avenue of happily ever after this soon into what could be a long running and successful show.

  14. Beth Callow

    I agree with your points. I hope that Season 3 just furthers the with the narrative of the characters rather than becoming same-y and boring.

  15. Amy Grant

    I hate when this happens to some of my favourite shows, I always dread the third or fourth seasons as this is when shows tend to go downhill, True Blood, Gossip Girl and now apparently New Girl as well. It’s such a shame when they lose that special ‘something’. Great article!

  16. Aliya Gulamani
    0

    Such a brilliant, fun article. You write really well and I completely agree with your points, particularly with the relationship part. This has really made me understand why some dramas survive and others don’t. Thanks.

  17. Great article, I especially agree with points 3 and 2, although I still found The Office characters still enjoyable even throughout the last season. New Girl to me was amazing in the first season and at least 75% of the second season, but I have been disappointed thus far in the 3rd. I honestly hate the Nick/Jess relationship and I liked the show better when it was focused on the aspect of this eccentric girl struggling to live with her 3 male roommates but managing to create a bond with them. The one thing that’s keeping me watching is my interest in how Damon Wayans Jr’s return will affect the balance of the the show.

  18. I totally agree with what you are saying. Especially in American sitcoms the original charm of a programme is often lost when they try an appeal to a wider audience. Shows such as Seinfeld which stay true to their beliefs right through to the last episodes are the ones which will ultimately be remembered in years to come I think.

  19. Jordan

    You should write an article just for Parks and Recreation since you love it so much :p
    This was an entertaining article and it reminds me of why I don’t bother with most television shows. XD

  20. kayakesva
    0

    it was called “moonlighting”, you ‘tard.

  21. As a television student myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I am also a huge fan of New Girl and everyone that I talk to seems to my share opinion that season 3 is awful. I agree that Nick and Jess should be stable for a while before they break them up forever; however, it’s undeniable that the show got considerably less entertaining after the the couple finally got together. New Girl epitomizes the Moonlight effect!

  22. Nilson Thomas Carroll

    I’ve said this a billion times, but if I were in charge of New Girl, I’d turn it into a soft science fiction show where basically the plot of Childhood’s End happens to the cast of New Girl.

    Why doesn’t anyone on tv want to have fun with genre?

  23. Some very astute observations, especially in the section about introducing new characters. There does seem to be a need for sticking with the theme or the backbone of the story. As you observed, GoT does this very well. Other shows get lost because in bringing in new characters and eliminating old ones they lose sight of the original story lines and the format of the show itself is changed. It’s hard to retain your diehard audience when you lose sight of the theme, because your diehard audience is usually your original audience.

  24. sara j.
    0

    Omg completely agree! Couldnt have said it better myself. I hate when my favorite couple in a show FINALLY gets together bc then I feel like uuhhoh are the writers gonna make the couple breakup soon? I hate that, I want Jess and Nick to last. Even if they are different I believe they can love each other through those differences. So I’m super pissed about season 3!!!!!! I know its just a show but I’ve gotten so attached to the characters and love Nicks character, he is like my dream boyfriend bc he’s funny,sweet,,sarcastic, and just goofy. So they’re relationship kinda gives me something to look forward to so I want them to make it.

  25. Erin Derwin
    ederwin01
    0

    I think the problem in “New Girl” in season 3 is that we all eventually grow up. It is beginning to be awkward that they all live in a loft together. “Friends” had people spread out in different apartments and they rotated once in a while. “New Girl” had a lot of personalities trapped in one space. Also, can Winston get more story????

  26. Really good points. I lose interest in shows a lot and you point out great reasons why. I too started watching New Girl, but stopped somewhere around the middle of season two cause I had enough of the characters and lack of story lines. But, I agree that the initial mix of characters and premise of the show was great!

  27. Vidal Chavez

    These are such real problems for television shows!! “Flanderisation” really gets to me though. I feel like it’s the most common flaw in TV. As for killing off a character, it’s actually be applicable now that season 5 of New Girl is coming up and Zooey Deschanel is leaving the show. I fully respect her decision as a mother to take time for her baby but I can’t imagine the show without her! Zooey Deschanel is what makes New Girl great! I know they’re not actually killing off Jess, but they’re coming up with an excuse to get her out of the apartment and replacing her with Megan Fox. I just don’t see how the show is going to work without her.

  28. Great article/analysis. I was a pretty big fan of Once Upon A Time when it started, and have stubbornly stuck with the show. LOVE what you said re: couples: “Television shows seem to have an aversion to couples being happy. It comes from the, frankly ridiculous, notion that a happily married couple has nowhere to go in the narrative aside from babies, babies, babies.”
    Flanderisation is also relatable to Once.
    Wish we could have the writers of all these TV shows that were at one time great take our complaints to heart!

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