Shows with a great premise but terrible execution

I was thinking the other day about the short-lived TV show Century City. It was basically LA Law but in the future. The premise was fantastic: they would have courtroom dramas about science fiction topics. If I kill my clone is that murder? Is an alien visiting earth entitled to human rights? That sort of thing.

Unfortunately, the few episodes that did air were universally cheesy and badly written. The world-building was not taken seriously and the actually interesting scifi conflicts took a back seat to generic lawyer soap-opera crap. It was cancelled after only a few episodes.

There was a British TV show, a one-off mini-series, out a few years ago called The Time Of Your Life, about a woman who wakes up from an 18 year coma, who still has the mindset of a teenager from the 80s but now an adult in the modern world (2007). I thought that would be fascinating to watch her rehabilitate, be excited by the technological advances and adjusting to the new world.

Instead they played her as a whiny teen who just wanted to behave like a spoiled brat who had never grown up, and a desperate need to sleep with everybody she met. There was no drama, it was all just salacious soapy bullshit with no realism. So disappointing.

I really looked forward to “Counterpart” but, for me, it has gotten boring already.

The Kevin Bacon-led “The Following”.

I’m a sucker for a disheartened-detective-tracks-a-serial-killer-who-has-ties-to-said-detective story, but this show was so terribly executed that it felt more like a video student’s final project in college than a network TV show.

The show was about a cult leader/serial killer guy, and the hook of the show was “anybody could be in the cult!” but it turned out that EVERYONE was in the damn cult. You couldn’t go 30 minutes without someone magically betraying someone else because they were a part of the cult.

I finished the first season, but I hate-watched most of it.

“Under the Dome” could have been a lot more than it was. Instead of trying to be a decent single season show they had to milk it longer and got insanely stupid and contrived. Of course it didn’t help that the book was subpar as well.

“Sleepy Hollow” also went too long, turning into a dull monster of the week show. Could have been a little lighter and focused more on Crane’s adaptation to modern life but ended up as silly as National Treasure.

Not long ago, I watched a few clips of Cop Rock. That show got mocked a lot, but I thought the premise was pretty interesting. I mean, people will gladly watch a Broadway musical where Founding Fathers sing to each other for two hours, or a movie version of a musical about Jazz-age women murderers, so why not watch an hour-long musical about cops on TV? And some of the songs I listened to were pretty good in a show tunes sort of way. Alas, the choreography was crap, and the general production values were not great. Also, I think (at least as far as I could glean from the little I watched) that they tried to make it a gritty cop show with a few songs, when they probably would have been better off just totally committing to the musical approach – one song after another with just enough spoken dialogue to stitch them together. I imagine cranking out a Broadway-quality musical every week was probably too ambitious. Anyway, maybe Lin Manuel Miranda can do a police-themed musical as his next project. Maybe release it as a Netflix series.

I agree wholeheartedly with both of these. I watched the first seasons of both but then was done. When watching a series starts to feel like homework, it’s time to let it go.

*Star Trek: Voyager *never used its divided-crew premise well.

The X-Files was promoted as a battle between believers and skeptics, which I interpreted as meaning that the episodes would leave the result ambiguous so that watchers could decide for themselves.

In fact, the very first episode definitively showed that the skeptics were wrong. I didn’t watch the second episode.

Jack & Bobby was the story of a single mom raising two sons, one of whom grows up to become the President of the United States.

So you know that when you’re watching the first episode, but you don’t know which brother it is. Like, if the popular jock brother falsely claims those are his drugs in the locker of his nerdy kid brother — well, either that’s the brainy one getting a crucial second chance from the guy he’ll idolize, or it’s why the likable brother eventually dropped out of school and maybe joined the Army to become a war hero.

You get it, right? You just saw maybe the most important moment in the life of a President, and you still don’t know what story it is! Think of the possibilities!

By the second episode, we’re told which one becomes President.

I’m tempted to say “all of them”.

Certainly it was the overwhelming problem with television during my childhood-through-teenage years. An interesting premise that made me want to watch how that plays out, then the script writing sucked, most often using the premise just as a wire coathanger onto which to hang a bunch of sitcom crap and (less often) saccharine soap opera drama or repetitive side-story situational suspense.

Television does seem to have even more interesting premises in the modern era — much more provocative hooks. And the initial writing, say the first 20 episodes, is massively better than in the old days. But where a series fails it’s still most often a draining away of the execution, the episodic scriptwriting losing its edge and, in particular, failing to develop the long story arc promised by the premise. (See in particular: Lost; Battlestar Galactica; Heroes)

The Starlost, a show with an excellent premise that was raped, murdered and left in the gutter by it’s executioners.

I agree that Cop Rock could have been truly fun. But I just don’t see how a weekly hour-long musical drama could ever be sustainable. But man, what balls to even try something like that! (And yes, some of the songs are catchy.)

It was? I don’t remember that at all. There’s skeptical characters but IIRC the pitch from the beginning was “here are some G-men investigating weird shit.” X-Files was fantastic, until it wasn’t.

Be honest; is it worth even one minute of my time? Any redeeming qualities? Pull no punches.

I liked it, but you have to be very tolerant of low-budget production. If you’re the kind of person who thinks remastering the original Star Trek episodes with modern digital effects is a significant improvement, Starlost is likely not for you.

Tell that to Rachel Bloom.

I kind of liked the premise of the Paula Poundstone Show – live, ad libbed and unscripted comedy. Alas, Poundstone, while funny, could not maintain it for a full hour, and it was quickly cancelled.

A Year at the Top was one of a couple TV shows (I don’t recall the name of the other) with the intriguing idea of people making a deal with the devil to become rock stars. But it never did much with the premise.

Thanks for the response. I still watch “Lost in Space” occasionally–'nuff said? :wink:

The original premise, as set forth by Harlan Ellison:

Knowledge of the other civilizations on the ship and the purpose of the flight are lost after 400 years, and each group believes that the world consists of what lies beneath their domed sky. One of the characters discovers the truth about the situation and has to convince the domes to both accept the truth and work together to figure out how to fix the ship before an upcoming disaster happens.
Well, the director(after the show was picked up by Canadian television and the budget was cut drastically) decided that each dome would be only 1 mile in diameter…which meant that any scene of the protagonist running and hiding from any one small town would have to ignore the fact that it would only take a few minutes to find someone in that small an area. Also, the “200 mile long ship” got shortened to five or ten miles, easily walkable within a day.
There were other factors of course, as in there being a Writer’s Guild strike going on that Ellison honored, leading the director to get amateurs that had never written scripts before to work under the table by lying to them and claiming that it was all authorized by Ellison. All in all, it was a clusterfuck.

On the bright side, it inspired a pretty good novel – The Starcrossed by Ben Bova.