Will Vanished’s Demise Kill Future Serials?

This spring, FOX is hoping that millions of viewers will tune in for their latest series, DRIVE, a serialized drama described by the network as “an action-fueled drama following a diverse group of Americans driving for their lives… in a sinister, cross-country road race.” But this week’s disappearance of the series VANISHED from the schedule may leave some viewers reluctant to take the show for a test drive.

Hampered from the beginning by a less-than-addictive premiere episode and several casting misfires, FOX’s VANISHED this week became the latest series to have its plug pulled. According to the network, the remaing four episodes can be caught via streaming video, with a new episode posted each Friday at http://www.myspace.com/vanished.

It is as yet unclear whether the remaining episodes will solve the show’s central mystery: Who kidnapped Sarah Collins and why?

The cancellation does, however, raise a potentially more serious question for not only FOX, but broadcast networks as a whole: How much longer will viewers continue to tune in for serialized dramas focused on a single mystery without a guarantee that the show will last long enough to provide answers?

Fans of the short-lived FOX series REUNION — which last year debuted with the promise that a single murder would be investigated and solved over the course of the season — were unusually vocal in their displeasure when the network opted to cancel the series after 13 episodes. Earlier this year, NBC’s KIDNAPPED — tracking a single abduction over the course of the season — met a similar fate, although it’s demise was greeted with something of a collective shrug by those few viewers who’d tuned in.

Obviously, with the success of such dramas as LOST and 24, the networks are not about to abandon the notion of serialized dramas. But why should viewers commit to a storyline arc is the networks themselves don’t promise a pay-off? In an ideal world, the networks would boldly proclaim their belief in the shows they’re programming by offering viewers a guaranteed resolution. Short of that, viewers may be understandably wary of signing on to a show which may or may not live long enough to offer closure to its central storyline.

As intriguing as DRIVE sounds, unless the network can offer up a promise that it will be allowed to cross the finish line, many viewers just may opt to avoid the series out of fear that it will prematurely crash and burn.

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