'The Event' Is Cancelled: Why It Didn't Take Off

Last week, I wrote about why TV shows shouldn’t be allowed to run for unlimited seasons and eventually die out. Since that post was sparked by the Fox network’s decisions on its renewals, cancellations and new programs for the fall, I thought I’d bring you a post based on the similar announcements by NBC a few days ago. Specifically, NBC disclosed that their new mystery/thriller show The Event would be cancelled after only one season, and that the season finale which will air on May 23rd will also be the series finale.

Read on to find out why this show failed, and why NBC may have killed a potentially good show before it hit its stride.

The story follows the consequences of an alien crash in Alaska near the end of World War II. A number of the aliens (who look like humans but age much slower) are captured by the American government and detained in a top-secret facility near the crash site. Others are able to blend into society unbeknownst to the government.

In the present day, a breakaway faction of the assimilated aliens plot to assassinate the President to force the government to release their people, who are still being held prisoner. As the President begins to unravel this plot, a young couple on a cruise are pulled into the intrigue and separated, leading the young man, Sean Walker, to mount a cross-country search for his girlfriend.

The Event premiered back on October 18th, 2010 in the coveted 9ET/8C primetime slot on Monday nights. It was advertised from the beginning as another Lost, meaning it would have a large cast, a mystery-based storyline, and elements of science fiction. Considering that Lost had just ended its run on ABC, and NBC was (and still is) running in fourth place amongst the major American networks, the higher-ups at NBC hoped that they could grab a large number of regular viewers from ABC with the promise of a similar show.

As a Lost fan myself, I saw through this gambit almost immediately, but I was willing to give The Event a chance. After all, I was in mourning over the end of my favourite show - I needed a new program to be a fan of! I happened to be watching NBC’s Chuck one Monday night (check out my article on that show here), and it was the premiere night for The Event. Every commercial break during Chuck included a promo for The Event – it was a complete advertising blitz. I was curious, so I decided to try the show out.

I watched the premiere, and I was legitimately interested. I wasn’t as enraptured by The Event as I was when I first saw Lost (will there ever be something that compares?), but the episode did a good job of setting up the concept and the main characters, and left us with a puzzling cliffhanger ending. I even tuned in the following week to see what happened next. But for a number of reasons, I slowly lost interest in the show. I only ended up watching maybe four or five episodes before moving on.

Part of the problem was that The Event presents you with a lot of questions early on – it doesn’t ease the audience into the sci-fi or the mystery smoothly. We’re hit with a one-two punch of questions in most scenes, and there was no promise of quick answers. To make the inevitable comparison to Lost, in that show we were given episodes upon episodes of the characters trying to survive a plane crash on an island. The mysteries were sprinkled in with hefty amounts of character development relayed in flashbacks. We didn’t really know it was a sci-fi show until season four – at which point we had had lots of time to get to know the characters and the frame narrative.

But there was more wrong with The Event than whether it made a good substitute to Lost. Its government-conspiracy storyline felt tired – as if it had been ripped out of a better movie. There’s a snivelling CIA director with all the answers and no desire to reveal them. The President character, Elias Martinez, therefore spends a lot of time complaining about how he wasn’t told about the secret compound in Alaska or the aliens.

This idea doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. How often is the real President left in the dark about huge government operations? Why does it seem like he knows next to nothing about the way his own administration works? We also spend too little time getting to know the Sean Walker character; he's too busy running or shooting or getting arrested for us to develop an attachment to him.

I’m guessing my experience with The Event is similar to that of many viewers. The ratings numbers and reviews suggest an early surge in interest: The viewing numbers put the show in good standing after its premiere: 10.88 million in the first week, and an average of 9.1 million viewers for the next four episodes. But as the season dragged on, the show bled viewers and ratings, losing almost half its audience in two months. Even a three-month hiatus didn’t build interest, and so there was little surprise when NBC cancelled it on May 13.

It’s too bad, really. There were some great things happening in The Event. Despite the fast pace, the action scenes were exhilarating, and the actors were well-cast. The references to terrorism were not too ham-handed and felt fresh. Maybe after a second season, the show could have hit its stride - they could have gotten all the expository stuff out of the way, and started in with the kind of character work that makes for a successful show. There are rumours that NBC might continue The Event as a webseries, but I think this show will always end up being billed as “the Lost that never was”.

Did you watch any of The Event? Did it have you hooked, or did you lose interest like much of the audience? Why do you think it fell apart? Sound off in the comments!