Once Upon A Time and Revenge both were breakout hits their first season. Scheduled together on Sunday night in their second seasons, it seemed, ABC found a perfect tandem to keep them very strong on Sunday nights. Both shows began making their plots a bit more complicated in their second seasons. OUAT added characters Aurora and Mulan and kept 2 of their 3 primary female leads sequestered from the rest of the cast for the first 9 eps. Revenge added an Alias style conspiracy plot featuring an evil conglomerate called “The Initiative” and seemed to deviate from the central Emily vs. Victoria revenge theme.
The difference seems to be that Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis of OUAT realized that their show was a bit too spread out and by the first episode back (the 10th) on January 6th, the core cast was returned to the forefront and the show seems to be back on track. Revenge also returned on January 6th with their best episode in a while, with an outing that once again had Emily pull out her red pen from the first season and concentred on a simple stand alone plot to take down those who had hurt her father. Yes, there were initiative side plots, but once again this felt like the show of the first season. But in the last 2 weeks, the show has been murkier than ever, adding more characters (like Dylan Walsh’s Jason Prosser) to make it more confusing, convoluted and frankly less interesting than ever. It’s a soap and last night felt way too complicated for me that I even stopped concentrating at times. I have seen many other fans echo this. This is a problem for this type of show that should be pure escapist fun and one that should concern Mike Kelley. I’ve seen him say in interviews that he plans to cement Victoria as the big bad of the show, which is good news for fans and it seems to suggest that he sees that his show has deviated a bit from its core. But I have also seen him say The Initiative isn’t going away anytime soon and that, frankly, is a mistake.
Lots of serialized/soap shows of this ilk suffer a bit in their second seasons. Producers had a long time crafting a central mystery for their first season and duplicating that in a short time is very hard and challenging on creators. TV is a fast-moving train and once you get going, and especially if you are a hit, it’s a very hard challenge. A second season of a hit procedural doesn’t usually face these challenges. Out of all 8 seasons, Desperate Housewives’ 2nd was by far its worst creatively and Marc Cherry has all but acknowledged it. It’s a daunting task and I sympathize with creators and crew.
Another problem for ABC is that in Jan and Feb scheduling their Sunday shows gets quite challenging with big events like The Super Bowl and the Oscars interrupting flow and when they do have consecutive weeks to schedule, they are opposite big televised events like championship football and the Golden Globes and The Grammys. The award shows in particular attract large audiences that definitely overlap greatly with the ABC audience. Last week both shows took a hit opposite the Globes but Revenge got hit worse. Early Metered Market ratings suggest that both shows are at their low from last week and Revenge was a 2.0 last week and can’t afford to dip much further. Now they are on a 3 week hiatus and are scheduled to return February 10th up against The Grammys. Once again it’s an award show that shares tremendous audience with the ABC shows, plus it’s a much higher rated show than The Globes. It’s the second highest rated award show after The Oscars (even on a normal year, unlike last). I think with Revenge’s last ep leaving viewers confused and bored, coming back after 3 weeks to face the Grammys (and The Walking Dead’s return) is a suicide mission for ABC. They will most certainly be under a 2.0 (like Desperate Housewives was opposite the Grammys last year).
I know ABC is building to their big ep 14 of Revenge, scheduled for February 17th and I know its sweeps, but I think ABC should not air new eps on Sunday the 10th. They can return for one week on the 17th, which would be the first without any major competition. Do they surrender against the Grammys? Yes Won’t their affiliates be mad? Probably, but I think they have to look at the bigger picture. Even if they air a new OUAT that night (which is in stronger shape creatively and ratings wise), I think they’d be better off stunting at 9p (maybe airing 2 reruns of Shark Tank from 9-11p) and holding the next new ep of Revenge for the 17th. (For the 2 weeks in Feb, ABC is scheduled to air “revenge for real” at 10p. That’s an option as well for the 10th in lieu of the show.)
Revenge is preempted on March 3rd for the 2 hour Premiere of Red Widow, but if they skip February 10th, they would air their big ep 14 upon their return for consecutive episodes on March 10th. It would be a good way to usher the shows return and hopefully Mike Kelley will be returning the show to its core for the last 9 episodes. I don’t expect ABC to sit out February 10th, it’s just not their M.O., but I think it would be to their benefit to do so. More importantly, Mike Kelley needs to return his show to what people loved about it. He still has time in the back 9 of the season, but if he doesn’t, Revenge might be a short-lived guilty pleasure and I know that neither he nor ABC want that.