Friday, November 17, 2006

A full-ish season for Veronica Mars

Alan Sepinwall has the good word -- seven more episodes for Veronica Mars' third season, bringing the total to 20 for the season, 64 for the series' run, roughly 20 episodes or so short of a profitable afterlife in perpetual cable reruns and 35 or so away from running in weekend syndication in the early hours of the morning, like a good cult show should.

Curiously, another college-based show with a third season shortened (to 17 episodes) due to bad ratings, Felicity, went on to have a ratings resurgence in its fourth season -- and was then canceled (though that show was fairly dependent on its college setting and probably would have seemed off if it had continued past Felicity's graduation).

Veronica Mars was mostly saved by the utter failure of The CW to catch on as a network, the complete avoidance of its one new drama (Runaway) and a surprisingly strong showing among teens in the ratings (for whatever reason). It also helps that it holds on to marginally more of its Gilmore Girls leadin in the ratings than One Tree Hill holds on to its America's Next Top Model lead-in. Things looked good for the show, as it had de-emphasized the over-arching mysteries to be more appealing to Gilmore viewers, and the ratings were perking up slowly but surely. In the last three weeks, though, it has tumbled, since it aired a new episode without a Gilmore lead-in. Veronica has acquired a reputation as a show that's hard to catch up on if you miss one episode, which really isn't true, but once the new Gilmore fans lost the plot thread, they bailed (presumably). The show has also been plagued by the return of House and the hugely rated last episodes of Dancing with the Stars, which sucked almost all of the oxygen out of the room.

Then again, Veronica has always battled low ratings. In the first season, when UPN had nothing to pair it with, that was understandable, and the show was renewed mostly because it was the one show in UPN's history to have any sort of real critical buzz. In its second season, it capitalized on its new Top Model lead-in, holding on to more and more of its audience (against Lost, no less), until it suddenly lost the lead-in, having to follow up something called South Beach. The ratings tumbled, and when Top Model started up again, Veronica's plot had advanced too far for casual fans, and the ratings tumbled as the season went on.

The show has been helped by having a loyal cult that buys DVDs and insanely low production costs that make it easy to recoup expenses through advertising (though the show has many, many regular cast members, only three appear in every episode). Creator Rob Thomas knows his niche, and he delivers to it solidly, which keeps the fans buying merchandise. Still, it's surprising the show has never been able to reach the upper 3 millions, where Buffy the Vampire Slayer regularly resided.

Now, however, Veronica seems to have run out of lives. If the ratings don't perk up in the last few episodes, there may not be a season four, regardless of the financial incentives to make it happen.

So, naturally, expect lots of posts from us about how you have to watch the show or you won't be our friends anymore.

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