Why FlashForward Failed and V Survived

Let's look at FlashForward and V -- two science fiction television shows on the same network, each started with high ratings, the season for each was interrupted by a long hiatus, each returned and suffered from anemic viewership, one was cancelled, the other was renewed for a second season.  Why did ABC give up on FlashForward and give V another chance?  I'm sure there are a number of reasons, but if we look at the shows' content alone, the answer is obvious -- FlashForward failed to build on its premise and had nowhere to go, while V saved itself by recognizing its weaknesses and making a valiant effort to improve. 

V still has many flaws (which I will eventually examine in a future essay), but it righted many of the wrongs that crippled its first handful of episodes.  The hiatus helped V, because when it returned it was a much better show. 

The break killed FlashForward, squashing any momentum it had built as the series returned with lackluster episodes.

Both shows were based on prior successful stories, and both made questionable changes to those original premises.  V was based on the 1980s hit about lizard aliens invading earth disguised as humans and eventually battling a resistance movement.  The first few episodes of the new version seemed to abandon much of the heart and soul of the original.  An hour-long recap episode of the first four hours when the show returned after its break was a tight refresher, revealing just how shallow and meandering the first batch of episodes were, since not much plot was lost in the editted-down version in which three-quarters of the first four episodes were cut and no plotpoints, character development, or meaningful action were lost.  It brought the audience up to speed and then the new episodes started with a bang, with many more thrills, shocks, and twists that the start of the season was sorely lacking.  V finally started to embrace some of the original's iconic moments -- a human woman pregnant with an alien baby, a Fifth Column of aliens opposing the actions of their leaders, a mercenary joining the human resistance and teaching them how to fight a guerilla war against an enemy with far superior technology.

FlashForward was based on Robert J. Sawyer's 1999 bestselling novel in which the entire world blacks out for almost two minutes and everyone has vivid visions of 21 years in the future.  The television show misguidedly altered much of the book -- most significantly making the titular flashforward precognition only a view of a few months into the future.  The book is a treasure trove of speculation, with cool concepts of what the future might hold and how the world might react to such an incident.  It is full of legitimate and thought-provoking science fiction.  The television show is a watered-down version that abandons a lot of what made Sawyer's book such an intriguing page-turner.  Making the flashforward visions only for events a few months down the road was an uninspired choice to wrap things up and fit a TV season's schedule rather than the demands of the story.  The flashforwards were boring and uncreative, and there was really no reason for the world to think they were all seeing a collective future.  What could have been a terrific concept with endless possibilities for viewers to see a number of far-futuristic scenarios from various characters' perspectives instead became a run-of-the-mill thriller-wanna-be that grew more and more tedious with each episode.

Both shows had great casts and top-notch production values.  FlashForward unfortunately had its best moments before the break and V started finding its storytelling feet after the break.  When ABC network executives had to decide which shows to axe and which to bring back, the evidence before them was clear -- FlashForward was scrambling to build viewer interest in characters who started off strong but who became more and more bland and to pay off on a mystery that seemed intriguing at first but could not be sustained over the course of the season as red herrings kept getting added and abandoned, while different plotpoints were stressed and then fizzled.  V, on the other hand, while still flawed, managed to fix some of the major problems it initially had.  The characters became more endearing, the plot moved at a better pace, and the show finally started to be a lot more fun and entertaining with pleasant surprises.

Although I was hoping that FlashForward might return and the new season would better embrace the sci-fi elements of Sawyer's book, I was not surprised to hear of its cancellation.  And while I did not have high hopes that V would return, I was happy to learn that it would be back again -- hopefully with even more improvements, bulding on the progress it has made so far.

Comments