Jimmy Smits, Will Arnett and James Wolk are established, talented stars of screens big and small -- and they are also on fall network TV shows that have already been canceled or are in danger of watching their sets go dark.
There are many reasons for the ratings-based rumpus: multiplying entertainment options competing with TV, fractured audiences and, oh yeah, the shows might not be that great.
But doesn't anyone remember the happy tale of "Friday Night Lights?" That critically adored high school football drama was on the verge of being canceled after two praised but poorly performing years on NBC. But first DirecTV and then a partnership between NBC and DirecTV kept the show on the air for three more seasons. The series ends later this month -- still far too soon for hardcore fans -- and it's an example of what can happen if a program is given enough time to find its (muddy, cleated) footing.
This year's shows, and their stars, might not be so lucky. Wolk, in fact, has already fallen. His Fox drama about a Texas conman, "Lone Star," was killed after just two episodes. This despite the fact that it had been widely lauded and its cast was packed with skilled line-readers like Jon Voight, Adrianne Palicki and David Keith. In the end, however, the show couldn't survive anemic ratings, particularly among coveted 18-49 year olds.
Smits's legal drama, "Outlaw," which had been on NBC on Friday nights is moving to Saturday for four more episodes before the plug is likely pulled. Deadline.com suggested that, if ratings rise, the show could yet be saved. But it now looks like the last episode will air on Nov. 13.
Arnett's case may be the saddest of them all -- at least for fans of twisted, original programing. Those fans will remember the absurdist gold the actor spun out of his character Gob on "Arrested Development." His new show, "Running Wilde," about the awkward romance between a pampered oil scion and his eco-conscious crush, has the same creative engine as "Arrested Development," in producers James Vallely and Mitchell Hurwitz.
Hurwitz and Vallely, burned by AD's 2006 demise after four cult-creating seasons, set out to make a simpler, more straight-forward show this time around.
Hurwitz recently told the New York Times that "Wilde"'s network, Fox, had requested that he, "tell one story, tell it simply, and let the characters start to grow on people.”
But the crew's taste for less mainstream laughs might, ultimately, be the show's undoing.
“We were too busy trying to get to what we think is funny, and what other people might not,” Arnett told the Times. “We just realized how many blind spots we had.”
Now, as a test, his show will be replaced by a second episode of a more popular Fox sitcom, "Raising Hope," on Oct. 26. Some critics are speculating that if the back-to-back "Hope" outperforms "Wilde," the end will come quickly for Arnett's baby. If that happens, it won't be for a lack of Twitter-y trying.