I was wandering through the fall tv show promos (as you do) and I came across the trailer for this.
Looks like fun, eh?
But it got me thinking about the way fantasy/paranormal is packaged and marketed for TV these days. There’s very little original fantasy TV. Everything is based on a fairy tale, a legend, an old movie or a book. Original characters and stories are a tough sell.
Yes, there are some. Let’s not argue about that. Long-running shows like Fringe, Lost Girl and Supernatural bear out the idea that TV audiences will watch and love original fantasy shows that aren’t based on some dusty old canon they read about in school. But all those shows are several years old now. The new stuff – the stuff that’s debuting this season – all seems to be variations on a theme.
And we’re seeing this a lot in books right now too. Urban fantasy died, don’t you know, so we can’t just make up characters or readers won’t get it. So we’ve got a rash of ‘She’s Sherlock Holmes’ long-lost sister!’ ‘He’s the demon-hunting descendant of Abraham Lincoln!’ ‘They’re the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’s pet squirrels reincarnated as vampire slayers!’ Or even just the one that always and will forever work: ‘He’s Dracula!’
Why is this? Do producers think audiences are too stupid or lazy to catch on to a fantasy show that doesn’t have a familiar, pop-culture ‘hook’? I beg to differ, and point you in the direction of the decade’s runaway fantasy hit Game of Thrones – though to be fair, the GoT world already had a huge fan base, and it’s produced by HBO, who actually care more about quality TV than they do about ratings per se. GoT is an amazing show, whether you read GRRM or not.
I get that a pre-existing canon gives the marketing people something to hang their promotion on. And it’s interesting that the producers of these shows are caught between two evils. If they use the canon, they’re accused of re-hashing old stuff and not daring to use fresh ideas. If they ditch the canon and make ‘random vampire show’ instead of Dracula, they’re accused of ripping off the original.
But the fact is that a lot of these shows are pretty damn cool – and have eye-catching, ‘watch-me!’ elements – even without the canon. Take another HBO show, True Blood. Did TB get a bigger audience because it was based on the popular Charlaine Harris series books than it would have otherwise? Because TB also has other, sure-fire hooks. Hooks that probably have better odds of success than Charlaine Harris. Sex. Violence. Hot chicks. Shirtless guys. Are there enough people out there who like those things (not to mention vampires) that TB would have found an audience anyway?
I think it might.
So what do you think? Is the high-concept hook important to you when you choose TV shows? Does the inclusion of familiar characters resonate with you?
Is ‘Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Dracula‘ more likely to interest you than ‘JRM plays random Victorian-era vampire’? Personally, I think a lot of (ahem) female fans would line up to watch ‘JRM in a toothpaste commercial’, but hey, maybe that’s just me.
Which just goes to show that there possibly isn’t any such thing as ‘too many hooks’. And begs the opposite question: is Dracula more interesting because he’s JRM? Or would the show be just as cool with an unknown actor? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Sleepy Hollow, on the other hand, does feature lesser-known actors. Will more people watch Sleepy Hollow – apparently the tale of a hot time-travelling Independence-era dude who solves supernatural mysteries with the help of secret clues from the founding fathers, which btw sounds pretty damn cool and I’m not even American – will more people watch it because it’s called Sleepy Hollow, and the hot dude’s name is Ichabod Crane?