As NBC’s “La Brea” begins, the world crumbles.
A giant sinkhole develops in Los Angeles. Buildings fall; people flee. Some escape, others plunge into a giant netherworld (shown here), where ancient creatures loom. And viewers are left with key questions:
Are there really sinkholes in Los Angeles? Do extinct animals really roam under the earth? And – most importantly – can we ever trust NBC to finish what it started?
The answers are yes and no and absolutely not. Let’s take that last one first:
The “La Brea” debut – 9 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 28), rerunning at 8 p.m. Saturday – is fascinating. But so were NBC’s other recent science-fiction shows. The network canceled “Debris” after a partial (13-episode) season; it canceled “Manifest” after three seasons.
In both cases, the key issues weren’t resolved. “Manifest” proclaimed: “The truth will surface” … except that it won’t, at least not on NBC.
Netflix is bailing the show out, with a fourth and final season …. just as Roku is bailing out NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” with a Christmas movie. “Debris” has simply vanished.
When asked, “La Brea” producer David Applebaum offered no encouragement that his show won’t also disappear mid-crisis: “What we’re trying to do is just make the best show possible …. As far as whether a show gets canceled or not, that’s not something that, really, I can think about.”
In general, cable and streaming networks have let sci-fi and serialized shows wrap up. NBC, ABC and Fox have often pulled them before they could resolve their compelling plots.
After canceling “John Doe” after one season, Fox’s programming chief explained to reporters why its lead character knew everything. (At the time of death, people are given all the knowledge in the world; then he was revived from the dead and retained it.) It was a great explanation … except the producers reportedly told other reporters it was wrong.
And NBC? Through different administrations and different genres, it keeps canceling shows abruptly. Once, it aired every episode of “Last Comic Standing” EXCEPT the finale, which showed who won.
Envying cable, NBC once put Kevin Reilly (previously of FX) in charge. He scheduled several cable-quality shows with serialized storylines. Then came the quick trigger.
“Kidnapped” lasted only three weeks in its timeslot, then was banished to places that then had few viewers – Saturdays for two weeks, then online, then overnight on summer Sundays.
“Heist” lasted six weeks, then was dumped. What about the viewers who had been following the story? “We wrote personal letters to the two viewers who were watching.” Reilly joked.
That may seem harmless for one obscure show, but it also forms a pattern: Maybe fans of serialized or sci-fi shows will quit watching the broadcast networks, for fear they’ll be burned again.
Or maybe “La Brea” will be different and thrive. It’s sandwiched by strong shows (“The Voice” and “New Amsterdam”) and has appealing actors (Natalie Zea, Jon Seda, Chike Okonkwo) and a strong concept. Los Angeles, Okonkwo said, is “a real cross-section”; the show is “throwing those people together in this primeval world and seeing how they survive, how they relate to one another.”
He’s the one, incidentally, who can answer that first question. Yes, Los Angeles has sinkholes; he saw one when he was living in Studio City. “A Toyota Prius, no less, sank into the ground” going about six feet down. “It just went; it dropped down into the ground.”
That was during a stretch of heavy rain; other Los Angeles sinkholes came after water mains burst.
One was this March; another, the previous November, swallowed a spiffed-up, 1993 Dodge Explorer. “Wow,” Amber Anderson told a TV news reporter then, “my van is inside a hole.”
There were, however, no extinct animals in the hole. That’s a logical extension of being extinct.