Scooplet! A tipster tells us even though their show was getting tired (see below), the cancellation came as a surprise to the cast who were shooting today in New York. When the news came down, the principals were taking their lunch break at Five Points in NoHo and quickly cleared out. Onward...
Instead of remembering Ugly Betty as a tired shadow of its former self, a quirky dud that limped into cancellation after creative and critical triumph, why couldn't it be remembered as a frothy and fun concoction with a limited run? That's because network (and since the networks are dying, cable too) has to make everything into a series so they can wring as much money as possible out of their hot properties. That is why we are stuck with season five of Heroes, which has managed to turn itself invisible thanks to numerous creative missteps. Wouldn't it have been brilliant if it just ended after season one?
As everyone probably knows, Ugly Betty is based on a telenovela, a serialized form of television popular in Spanish-speaking countries that has a predetermined end date. They utilize many of the same writers, directors, and stars, but the characters, plot, and location are always fresh. This is great for several reasons: people won't be afraid to commit to a new series because they know it's limited-time-only, it makes for better plotting if the writers know where to end, it makes the show more of an event, and it keeps everything fresh and new. Please, America, we need some of this right now.
Ugly Betty is the perfect example. When it debuted it was a cute, campy mystery about an ugly, inept girl who wanders into the world of a high fashion magazine. With the mystery solved, the characters morphed into brightly-colored stereotypes and the storylines were as recycled as a pair of size 10s at the local bowling alley. During season one, I used to cry at every episode and looked forward to the quippy banter of each episode. I was Betty, struggling to make it in the big, bad publishing world. Now it's a chore just to watch. It's like your great party friend from college who got married and pregnant and now only wants to eat at the Olive Garden. They even gave Betty a make-over and made her good at her job. The show should have ended long before then.
Attempts to make this format work for an American audience have been lousy, so far. There was the far too literal MyNetworkTV experiment that had on two dramas every weeknight for three months. Sorry, but that's not the way we watch TV. CBS' piece of shit Harper's Island, which touted its limited run, failed mostly because it sucked and was on Friday nights this summer.
Before more of our favorite shows pass their "watch by" date and congeal into stinking messes of curdled pixels, let's get the ball rolling. How about a mysterious, character driven sci-fi show with a graduation date? Think Lostif it only had twenty episodes. This type of thing has a built-in audience, and it would get plenty of cross-over from people who want something to watch but don't want to be marched down a palm-lined path through five years of mystery feeling like there is no end in sight and there is no pilot flying the burning plane.
Once that is a crashing success, bring back the same writers, actors, and crew and do another story a year later. Sure, you'll have the added expense of new sets and whatnot, but it's a way to keep the audience growing year after year instead of throwing tons of money on an inevitably sinking ship. After the sci-fi show works, try it with the family drama (the CW's Life Unexpected would be cute for a year, but even on episode two I can't imagine it three years in) and the sit-com and the procedural. We don't need to get rid of conventional series altogether, but if the networks want to find a way to maintain supremacy, they need a new gambit, and this one is bound to be more exciting than Jay Leno ever was.