“The Grinder” Rests — When Bad Things Happen To Good Shows
I was a big fan of The Grinder. It had a great cast, terrific writing, good chemistry, smart stories and was, most importantly, very, very funny. But in spite of that, people didn’t watch it, and so last week, after much speculation about its fate, the show was canceled by the network and a little less than two million of us were left lamenting why more people didn’t appreciate such a strong show when they had the chance.
It’s nothing new, of course. Great shows get killed off prematurely all the time. Arrested Development was one, before Netflix rescued it a decade later. My So-Called Life was another, and that’s just the start. Firefly, Pushing Daisies, Veronica Mars, Deadwood, Happy Endings, Party Down, Wonderfalls, Rubicon, Life, Sports Night, Terriers, and, of course, probably the grand, heavyweight champion of killed-too-soon, Freaks and Geeks. That’s quite a list, and I’m almost certainly forgetting some of my own favorites, and most definitely leaving out plenty of yours.
Still, it stings when a show you like doesn’t get the viewership it needs to be renewed, and you suddenly don’t get to spend any more time with these characters you’ve grown to like so much. It’s especially true here, because this one felt like it had all the ingredients to last longer than most. On top of that, it appeared to survive in spite of some early trouble that looked like it might doom the show before it even got rolling.
It’s becoming more and more common to replace a program’s showrunner before it even airs, but it’s still not exactly a recommended part of the recipe for success. When Fox fired Greg Malins from the show in August, it was because his vision of what the show should be didn’t match that of its creators, Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul. In this case, the newer writers won out and Malins was replaced by Ben Wexler, who worked much better with the duo to make a show that, week in and week out, was consistently one of the best half-hours on television.
Part of what made the show work, of course, was part of the reason why people probably didn’t like it: it went out of its way to deconstruct standard tropes of the medium, like ridiculous leaps in logic, side stories, and B characters. Comedies, procedurals and legal dramas were all fair game. All things being equal, it’s possible that the show was just too smart for its own good.
What was surprising to me about how it went this year was that, like its fellow canceled freshman comedy, Grandfathered, it not only featured a huge TV star lead — The Grinder had Rob Lowe, Grandfathered had John Stamos — it also seemed to fit in perfectly with the kind of off-kilter type of sitcom that normally succeeds so well on Fox. The network has a history of such shows, from the ones that built it almost 30 years ago — Married … With Children and The Simpsons — to the more recent examples like New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Last Man On Earth.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that the programmers who put the schedule together put too much faith in the two stars to draw an audience, since when the shows premiered in September, they were leading off the Tuesday night lineup, in front of Ryan Murphy’s latest wacky genre mashup, Scream Queens. When the shows weren’t performing the way they were expected, they were matched with New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, both of which have been renewed, and still couldn’t get it done.
(It’s worth nothing that ratings were down across the whole night, as both veteran shows also were down for the year. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s ratings, in fact, have declined in each of its three seasons, but its finale still drew a half million viewers more than The Grinder did, and averaged more than 600,000 more viewers over the course of the season.)
Was there a better place to put the show? Someplace where more people might have been drawn to it? Possibly. Perhaps it might have been a better fit on Sunday, right before or after Last Man, a show that has done pretty well its first two seasons, but that’s easy to say in hindsight. When looking at the schedule in late August or early September, I know I was thinking those two shows starting off the Tuesday night lineup leading into Queens had a pretty solid shot to draw some serious viewership. Add in dynamite reviews (for The Grinder, at least, since Grandfathered was liked, but not nearly as much), and it seemed like a no-brainer that it would succeed.
But then, the two shows were really very different, so matching them up might not have been the best move, after all. It’s easy to say that, too, but there’s also an argument against it. It’s not like one did especially well and the other didn’t. They both ended up getting clobbered by NCIS (the most watched network show on television, with 15 million more viewers per week), The Voice (almost 10 million more per week), Fresh Off the Boat (3 million more per week), and The Flash (2 million more, and the highest rated show on The CW). Sure, it’s possible they might have done better elsewhere, but more likely is that people weren’t going to watch no matter where on the schedule they might have ended up.
Look, this isn’t an indictment of Lowe or Stamos for not drawing the viewers, and it’s not an indictment of Fox for canceling the show(s) or screwing up the programming or marketing. It’s more of a lamentation that sometimes, great television gets lost in the shuffle and, for one reason or another, audiences just don’t show up.
So I guess I’m blaming you. Nice job, people. Way to miss out on some great TV and blow it for the rest of us. Jeez.
Neil Turitz is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades in the independent film world and writing about Hollywood. Aside from being a screenwriter/director and Tracking Board columnist, he is also a senior editor at SSN Insider.