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A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, THE TV FAMILY. I phoned Shelley McCrory at NBC for an official autopsy.
"This was a different kind of show for us," she said, "and when we launched it on Saturday, it was to get a sense of what it was going to be. And we loved the episodes we saw, and that was what drove the move to Monday, and we had a really spectacular re-launch there.
"Unfortunately, it did not help us to have [the Monday-night re-launching] clobbered by ABC with Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, and in the weeks that followed it was difficult for us to get traction. We did promote the show, and I think the quality of promotion was excellent. Do I wish we promoted it more? Of course. I don't think there's a producer on this network or any other that believes that they get enough promotion, but there's a finite amount to go around, and you do the best you can. Certainly there's never an intention to not give a show enough promotion.
"The show does have a loyal audience. Unfortunately the numbers it was doing were not numbers we could live with. That was very painful to accept. Everyone here really struggled; everyone here loved the show. But we weren't seeing the growth that we needed to see. And the thing that has made it somewhat bearable for me was that when we made the decision to pull the show, Scott Sassa was immediately on the phone with Judd Apatow spitballing ideas to find it a new home. I personally got on the phone to Fox and the WB. I can't think of a time when we made such proactive efforts to help a show find a new home. Nobody here wants to see this show just go away. But we have a very important business responsibility that we have to always keep in mind. We have to stay competitive; at the end of the day, that's the business that we're in."
And that's it, of course: It's just business. "For all my conspiracy theorizing," says Jake Kasdan, "the truth of it is it's probably a very simple sentence that's mostly numbers. Part of that is that we weren't handled in the best possible way, obviously, and part of it is that we were unrelenting from day one about the reality we wanted to depict. And that was partially in response to being turned off by what's on television. And so how surprised can we be, at the end of the day, when that audience that likes those shows sort of sends a message? Certainly ours is a show people liked, there's no question about that anymore. But when you look at the shows the whole country loves, they're nothing like this."
So: What have we learned? Well, Busy Philipps, sounding as tough as the character she played, learned that "Television is run by rich white men who are told what to do by rich white men, who want a formula to sell the most soap." Martin Starr has come to believe that "If ever I do get on a good show again, a really good show like Freaks and Geeks, it's probably not going to make it again. I've kind of lost hope in television management, because there's a lot of crap out there; they shoved it down the American people's throats, and now everyone's kind of used to it, everyone kind of likes it now, just because they've had to watch it for so long."
What have Paul and Judd learned? Hopefully . . . nothing. There is still some small, small chance that Freaks and Geeks will go on, but whatever happens, whatever they do together again, one would prefer them to make the same mistakes next time, to try for more than the medium asks of them, to make the honest even if uncommercial choice. So they skimp on the victories -- so what? Isn't there more to life than winning? When was Lucy Ricardo ever victorious? When was Ralph Kramden? It had a short life and a bumpy one, but it was something to be proud of, after all.LA
This week, the Museum of Television & Radio is screening all episodes of Freaks and Geeks, including marathons of the six unaired episodes, on Saturday and Sunday, May 13 and 14, from noon to 5 p.m. Paul Feig and Judd Apatow will introduce. See Museum listings in Calendar, or call (310)786-1000 for more info.