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Once and again, it comes down to ratings

(Posted April 15, 2002 by Seapharris7)

Once and again, it comes down to ratings

In TV, as in life, sometimes there is no justice.

Case in point: ABC's sterling family drama Once and Again; a critically acclaimed, hour-long show about two divorced forty something parents who fall in love, get married and struggle to manage their blended family.

Over three seasons, the show has tackled everything from a high school girl's budding lesbian relationship to the effects of mental illness and Alzheimer's disease on a family -- always with poignancy, depth and a level and characterization rarely found in today's pile of reality TV series and cookie-cutter sitcoms.

Star Sela Ward won an Emmy in September 2000 for her work on the series, once hailed by TV Guide as the Best Show You're Not Watching.

Earlier this month, ABC finally gave up on transcending that dubious honor and canceled Once and Again, which airs its final episode at 10 tonight on WFTS-Ch. 28.

And in this critic's mind, there's mostly one reason why it's hitting the showers.

It's just too good for television.

I know. That's something people always say when their favorite show gets canceled -- even when the show in question is more A-Team than Hill Street Blues. But when you're talking about a series that's getting clobbered by NBC's limp Quincy rehash Crossing Jordan (get star Jill Hennessy out of her tight jeans and see how long that one lasts), there's a case to be made.

Of course, Once and Again co-creator Marshall Herskovitz is far too nice to agree with my analysis, though he appreciates the sentiment. He blames the show's death on constant schedule shuffling (moving to Fridays just about killed the series) and a storytelling style that isn't mass appeal.

"Most people want TV shows to transport them away from their lives . . . using real life as a reference point is more familiar in the world of movies," said Herskovitz, who crafted tonight's finale before anyone knew the show was canceled. "But I'm touched and moved by the efforts people have gone through to save the show. If TV is a passive medium . . . then when somebody has an active reaction to a show, that's the ultimate compliment."

First, Once and Again is a show that challenges viewers, refusing to cast its conflicts in simple, black-and-white tones. When the series tackled the theme of overworked spouses, for instance, Ward's Lily Manning feared she was dating a man with the kind of work habits that helped kill her marriage, while Billy Campbell's Rick Sammler struggled to keep his architecture firm afloat.

It was a dose of reality within a TV drama that nearly brought tears to my eyes. But it may have been too much for TV viewers wanting shows that offer an escape from everyday problems, not an exploration of them.


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