Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why Did ABC Cancel The Last Resort?

If you keep track of such things, many of you may have heard that the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) has cancelled the show The Last Resort. Now I have to confess that I never watched the show, as it was opposite 30 Rock on NBC. That having been said, I know that it received almost universally sterling reviews from critics and everyone I know who watched it simply raved about it. I thought that perhaps I would be able to catch it in reruns. Sadly, it seems that I was wrong. I also must say that I think ABC has made a mistake in cancelling The Last Resort so soon.

Now on the surface ABC may appear to have been wise in cancelling The Last Resort. The show did not do well in the Nielsen ratings. While the series debuted with 9.31 million viewers, its ratings soon dropped. Its episode that aired this week was only watched by 5.68 million viewers. Worse yet, it was not doing well in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers want so badly. It had only a ratings share of 1.2/4 in the key 18-49 demographic. Except possibly for a show on The CW, these ratings would seem to be bad by any measure.

While ratings for The Last Resort were hardly good, I have to point out that the show might not have been doing quite as badly as ABC thought. Let's face it, the show was opposite the ratings behemoth Big Bang Theory, which has been averaging a phenomenal 18.99 million viewers this season. What is more, it does spectacularly well in the demographic of 18 to 49 year olds. This week The Big Bang Theory received an incredible 10.6/17 ratings share in the 18 to 49 demographic. If The Big Bang Theory wasn't bad enough, it also has to compete with the results show of The X-Factor. While it does not receive the phenomenal ratings of The Big Bang Theory, it does do particularly well. This week it had 7.3 million viewers and a ratings share of 4.5/7 in the 18 to 49 demographic. Given its competition, then, The Last Resort was probably lucky to get the ratings that it did. Indeed, it did beat out both 30 Rock and Up All Night on NBC in both over all viewers and the key demographic. Indeed, I very seriously doubt anything ABC could put in its place would do as well. And from last season's Charlie's Angels reboot, we know some things could do worse.

Even if ABC took into account the fact that The Last Resort was against competition that no show is likely to surmount, one could still maintain they were justified in cancelling the show. Again, I am no so sure that is true. The Last Resort was very well received with critics and viewers alike. At the aggregated review site Metacritic, The Last Resort received an incredible 74 out 100 positive reviews from critics. It also did well with viewers on the Metacritic site, who gave it a rating of 8 out of 10. Most shows at Metacritic are lucky to receive a score of  anywhere from 50 to 60 from the aggregated reviews of critics and a rating of 5 or 6 from viewers at Metacrtiic. Users rated The Last Resort  very high at IMDB as well. There it has been rated 8 out of 10 (about four out of five stars).  The Last Resort was then one of those shows that was both critically acclaimed and well loved by those who saw it. I would think that would give ABC very just cause for keeping it.

Indeed, I have to point out that historically shows that have received largely positive reviews and good buzz from viewers often prove to be hits, no matter how low rated they were in their early runs. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. did so extremely badly upon its debut on NBC in the 1964-1965 season, that as of December 1964 it was not even on NBC's tentative schedule for the 1965-1966 season.  After NBC moved it from Tuesday night to Monday night, its ratings began to steadily rise until by May it was one of the surprise hits of the 1964-1965 season. All in the Family is another example of an acclaimed show with an inauspicious debut. When it debuted as a mid-season replacement on Tuesday night in 1971 its ratings were not particularly spectacular. With its second (and first full season) it was moved to Saturday night, where it became the #1 show, a position it maintained for five seasons.

Beyond the fact that critically acclaimed show with good buzz from viewers sometimes become hits, there is the fact that The Last Resort could have become a prestige show for ABC. Critically acclaimed shows with good buzz from viewers are often nominated and even win a good number of awards. Of course, this brings positive attention to the network airing the show. And it is not as if ABC has a preponderance of "prestige shows" airing this season. Modern Family, which won a ton of awards (everything from Emmy Awards to Writer's Guild Awards) is about the only prestige show they have. The Last Resort could then have increased the number of awards for which ABC was nominated, if not won, and thus bring positive attention to the network.

Rather than cancel The Last Resort, I truly think ABC would have been better off moving it to another time slot. It is notable that of my two examples from above, both All in the Family and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. did not become ratings successes until they were moved to different time slots. And it is not as if ABC did not have an available time slot. The same time that the network cancelled The Last Resort, they cancelled 666 Park Avenue. They could have simply moved The Last Resort to 9:00 PM Sunday night where 666 Park Avenue formerly aired. Indeed, this would have the added benefit of removing it from competition with The Big Bang Theory. While it is highly unlikely The Last Resort would beat Sunday Night Football on NBC, it could compete with The Mentalist on CBS. Indeed, given The Mentalist tends to be a show with a slightly older audience, I don't see how it could fail to attract more of the desired 18 to 49 demographic. And once Sunday Night Football ends in December, it could actually see a boost in the ratings.

Regardless, I think ABC has made a mistake in cancelling The Last Resort. Given its competition on CBS and Fox, I don't see how ABC could have thought it was going to do incredibly well in the ratings. And given it has received largely positive reviews from critics and is highly regarded by those viewers who have seen it, The Last Resort could have risen in the ratings. This could have especially been a possibility had it been moved to a less competitive time slot. Sadly, it seems ABC did not want to give it that chance.

Friday, November 16, 2012

No More Zingers: Dolly Madison Closes Shop

In the movie Zombieland the character Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) was on a quest for Hostess Twinkies in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. I can imagine how he would feel if he existed in the real world, now that Hostess Brands has ceased operations. Indeed, the media today has been filled with the news that there will be no more Twinkies, no more Ding Dongs, no more Ho-Hos. What the media seems to have missed and what is more alarming to me is that there will be no more Dolly Madison products, no more Zingers, no more Donut Gems, no more Dolly Madison fruit pies.

The origins of the Dolly Madison brand go back to the founding of Interstate Bakeries Corporation (IBC) in Kansas City, Missouri in 1930 by Ralph Nafziger. The company sold bread packaged in gingham--the forerunner of Butternut Bread. The year 1937 would be a historic one for IBC. The company would merge with Schulze Baking Company from Chicago. It was also the year that Ralph Nafziger conceived a new brand for IBC, which he called "Dolly Madison" after famous First Lady of the United States Dolley Madison. He conceived his Dolly Madison snack cakes as “Cakes and pastries fine enough to serve at the White House.”

Over the next few decades Dolly Madison would expand its product line. It sold angel food cakes, devil food cakes, brownies, and so on. It would eventually add creme cakes similar to rival Hostess Twinkies to its line of items. Eventually called "Zingers," it may have become the best known product sold by Dolly Madison. In the early Seventies Dolly Madison began a long association with the comic strip Peanuts. Dolly Madison would sponsor the many Peanuts television specials over the years. They also used the Peanuts characters extensively in their advertising. They even featured the Peanuts characters on their packaging. For instance, different Peanuts characters would appear on the packages of Dolly Madison snack pies:  Snoopy on the blueberry pie, Charlie Brown on the cherry pie, Linus on the apple pie, and so on. The company's association with the Peanuts characters would last into the Eighties.

As to rival Hostess, its origins went back to Continental Baking Company. The Continental Baking Company began as the Ward Baking Company in 1849. It was in 1921 that William Ward, the founder's grandson, renamed the company "Continental Baking Company." In 1925 Continental Baking Company bought Taggart Baking Company, the maker of Wonder Bread. The purchase would make Continental the biggest baking company in the United States. It was also in 1925 that Continental introduced the "Hostess" brand for their cakes. It was in 1930 that a baker for the Continental Baking Company in Schiller Park, Illinois, James Alexander Dewar invented the Twinkie. It would not only become the most famous product in the Hostess line, but probably the most famous product Continental manufactured besides Wonder Bread.

While Continental Baking Company would be a giant in the baking industry, it would eventually be bought by rival Interstate Bakeries in 1995, the maker of Dolly Madison products. Once owned by two separate companies, rivals Dolly Madison and Hostess were now owned by the same company. Unfortunately, things would not go smoothly for the company. Interstate Bakeries filed for bankruptcy in 2004. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 and was renamed, horror of horrors for Dolly Madison fans, Hostess Brands Inc. To make matters worse, Zingers would in some areas be manufactured bearing the "Hostess" brand. It was almost as if it was Continental who had bought Interstate and not the other way around.

Unfortunately, the company would fare no better. In January 2012 Hostess Brands Inc. filed for bankruptcy. Today they announced they were closing their doors. In other words, both Dolly Madison and Hostess would be no more.

Regardless, while many are mourning the passing of the Twinkie, I am more concerned about the passing of the Zinger. When I was growing up my parents bought Dolly Madison products almost exclusively (the occasional Little Debbie snack was an exception).  For now there is a Dolly Madison store in our county and we would go there every week to buy several packages of Butternet Bread (still in a package with a gingham pattern), as well as various Dolly Madison snacks. Sometimes it was Zingers. Sometimes it was the Donut Gems (little miniature donuts). Sometimes it was the fruit pies. It was always the Zingers I loved the best. No other snack cake ever tasted quite so good. In fact, I would not eat a Twinkie until I was an adult and I must confess I did not like it. Twinkies may have come before Zingers, but they were not nearly as good.

While the media seems obsessed with the thought that there will be no more Twinkies, I am more concerned that there will be no more Zingers. Indeed, I hate seeing all of the Dolly Madison products cease to exist. While I really would not care if Twinkies are never manufactured again, I am really hoping that some company will buy the Dolly Madison brand and the various products that go with it. I really hope I have not seen the last of Zingers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Famous 2000th Post

It was 8 years and and a little over 5 months ago that I first started this blog, A Shroud of Thoughts. That brings me to this milestone, the 2000th post. When I first started A Shroud of Thoughts I had little idea of what I wanted to do with it. In the early months it was a mixture of pop culture and stuff about my own life. It would not be long, however, that it would become devoted entirely to pop culture. Not only did I figure that pop culture interested me more than what was necessarily going on in my own life, but I also figured most people would find pop culture more interesting than my rather dull life as well.

Since then I have written about movies, television shows, music, comic books, pulp magazines, radio shows, and web sites, most of them from many years ago. I would suppose, then, that not only did A Shroud of Thoughts evolve into a pop culture blog, but a nostalgia blog as well. My one big regret with A Shroud of Thoughts (and a particularly ironic one since I took the title from a line in Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage) is that I have never written a good deal about literature. Oh, I have delved into the works of Dickens and a few other writers on occasion, but not with any regularity. I have often thought I should rectify that, but so far I never have.

My own life has changed a good deal since I first started writing A Shroud of Thoughts. At the time I started writing the blog I had one job. It was only a few months after I started the blog that I would get another. In the years since then I would quit one job, finding the pace of having two jobs too much, and I would lose my other job when the firm for which I worked closed our local office. My life has changed other ways too. My best friend and fellow pop culture addict died last year. I also published my first book last year, Television: Rare & Well Done. At the moment I am currently working on another one.

As to A Shroud of Thoughts itself, I really don't know what changes might come to it in the coming years. I have no plans to stop writing it any time soon, nor do I plan any drastic changes to the blog (there is an old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"). I would like to delve more into literature, although given the history of this blog I don't expect that will happen any time soon. At any rate, I have to say that A Shroud of Thoughts has done a bit more than give me a platform from which I could write about movies, television, music, and so on. In some ways it has given me a bit more purpose to my life and helped maintain my sanity through rough times. Even when I was unhappy with my job or things were going wrong in life, I at least knew that I had A Shroud of Thoughts to give my life purpose and help through the hard times. After all, if I don't write about the movies, TV shows, and other pop culture artefacts of the past, who will?