Opinion: PRIME SUSPECT – next casualty of bad marketing?

I’ll never watch the American version of PRIME SUSPECT. I uttered that months ago, when the ads started, and would have repeated it a scant four weeks ago.

Then it snowed. Being stuck inside while it snows in October is the only excuse I have.

Trouble was, it wasn’t that bad. And as we began to burn through the episodes available On Demand, we saw the potential in the show.

PRIME SUSPECT has a number of things working against it. The original UK version is in a league of its own, and Helen Mirren is a standout in the lead. She owns the character and the series.

It’s unfortunate that the US version didn’t distance itself more. Changing the name of the lead female character wasn’t enough: it needed a different series name as well.

And there have been times when I’ve picked up a book and felt the author was trying too hard to create a distinct character, and it just seemed like every quirk or oddity possible to come up with was thrown into a pot, and instead of being a ‘person’ they were just a laundry list of eccentricities.

That’s how I felt when I saw the ads for the US PRIME SUSPECT. Maria Bello seemed to be trying too hard in a roll that had been twisted to death to appear distinctive. She wasn’t going to appeal to most female viewers, and based on the reaction in this house she wasn’t winning fans amongst men, either. Those commercials sucked, and made me think the show was (much like the UK version) all about her character. And her character came off as annoying in the thirty-second commercials splashed all over the TV.

After a few episodes, it was clear the producers were attempting to smooth out the rough edges, Bello’s character was coming into her own and seemed more real and less fabricated, and the full cast was starting to mesh together. They needed to make it a little less about the detecting and let the characters lead the show. We finished out the episodes available to us, and by the end, we’d added a new show to our weekly roster.

I won’t live on a TV schedule for any show. And I won’t put PRIME SUSPECT on the same level as BREAKING BAD or TERRIERS. There hasn’t been a show I’ve been willing to go to bat for since TERRIERS – we watched CHICAGO CODE and liked it, but away it went, without much of a whimper from anyone – but I’m still not prepared to put PRIME SUSPECT in that category. TERRIERS was, in many respects, unrivaled genius.

However, apparently, viewers far and wide were as deterred by the ads and initial direction of PRIME SUSPECT as we were. There’s speculation that it may be amongst** NBC’s first cancellations of the season. And what stinks about that is that I’m not convinced that would be based on a fair reaction to the show, when the ads were a colossal screw up that failed to put potential viewers in touch with the real heart of the show.

I hope it’s shifted to another night and given a fair shot. Last night, Brian even stated that it was showing promise as a show more reminiscent of HOMICIDE than anything else on TV today.

And, in case you don’t know, that’s pretty high praise in this house. The full cast – including Aidan Quinn, Kirk Acevedo, Brian F. O’Byrne, Peter Gerety – really has potential. This is one of those times I can only say that I hope the show gets half a chance. If it moves in the right direction, it will be the best network crime show currently airing, hands down.

** added to correct statement – since I didn’t watch Playboy Club and had no interest I hadn’t realized NBC already had cancellations this season

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Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

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About Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

15 Replies to “Opinion: PRIME SUSPECT – next casualty of bad marketing?”

  1. I like it to and also to my surprise. But knowing it’s probably going to be gone soon, puts me off of watching it anymore. Like you, I was completely addicted to TERRIERS and that was a sad day.

  2. I completely understand. I didn’t know it was in serious jeopardy until this morning. Until then, I’d thought half-heartedly about posting something, but with our general craziness that wasn’t a top priority.

    I decided that maybe part of the reason it wasn’t catching on within our circles, which include strong advocates of books, shows and movies, was because everyone else had been put off by the ads, too.

    So, I threw this out on a whim this morning. I want the show to have a chance. I’ve appreciated Kirk Acevedo in everything I’ve seen him in, from OZ to FRINGE to this. At first, I was a bit surprised by the idea of Aidan Quinn in this type of roll, but I think he owns it. They don’t give him much episode to episode, but he makes the most of it. In fact, overall, I’m not sure I can pinpoint a convincing weakness in the cast. Brian F. O’Byrne’s character may be a total ass, but this past week it was great to see his biases used against him, and worse still, to see him realize he was being used. He lost the cockiness and showed something resembling human emotions there, which presents him as a character that has layers to him that may be worth exploring. Six months from now I may say nothing more than wasted potential, but damn, if they pull it now and don’t see if this can find its feet, I’ll be surprisingly choked.

  3. That’s true, Jack. It’s like we have anti-radar stamped on our foreheads. I guess most of them are content to watch CSI and NCIS forever. Why THE CLOSER and not this?

  4. I wasn’t aware the show needed defending. It’s one of my favorites of the new shows. The Mirren show I’ve never managed to catch, though I was aware of it’s reputation.

    I, too, was upset when Terriers was canceled. I just recently recommended it to a friend who doesn’t do cable(he’d liked my previous pick of Justified). He likes to rent shoes. Course I’m not sure if Terriers is available on DVD.

  5. Randy, I really had no idea, either. We’ve been watching Terra Nova, and that was actually what I was trying to find out the verdict on. It’s one of those shows, for me, that’s semi-mindless entertainment, and I’m curious the see the concept play out. As far as I can tell, no verdict on it yet, but when I was reading about that I saw a link to a write-up on Prime Suspect’s renewal chances, and I clicked through. I followed that with a google search. It’s been declared that Prime Suspect’s cancellation is certain, although it hasn’t been announced.

    It was my further reading yesterday that explained that because the network’s only standby show was used to fill in for Playboy Club when it got pulled, there’s nothing to fill another spot. Seems they feel new episodes of Prime Suspect will do better than repeats of other shows, so for now, it’s still on, but sounds like it’s on life support, and it’s only a matter of time before they pull the plug.

  6. I agree. I liked Prime Suspect. It was obvious the show needed some time to grow into itself, but it was halfway decent. What a shame. There’s so much junk on TV right now. Even HBO isn’t impressive. I’m trying to like Boardwalk Empire and sometimes I do, but something is off about it. I think the characters aren’t interesting enough. In my opinion, that’s what makes a show tick and I agree with you that the characters were starting to really work in Prime Suspect. Oh well.

  7. What a terrible idea, I thought. After the first episode I thought, why on earth did they want to connect this to the British Show. The only thing in common was the problem of a female cop in an old-boy environment. As it turns out the show is good, very good. But there’s no real connection.

  8. Throughout the history of network television, you’ll find this story repeated again and again: the Oversell.
    Anetwork decides that one show on the schedule is destined to be The Next Big Thing, and they send the PR machine into warp drive. Before long, you reach the point tat you’re afraid to turn on the kitchen tap for fear of getting another promo for TNBT!***Coming Soon!!!****Almost Here!!!****Any Second Now!!!****It’s Almost HERE!!!****(drumroll)I*T*’S**H*E*R*E*!!!!
    … that’s it?

    Think back far enough, and you’ll come up with any number of shows that had Big Build-Ups that led to Bigger Let-Downs.
    And in most cases the actual quality of the show became irrelevant.
    Year after year, show after show, the pattern repeats.
    The networks never learn.

    This season, PRIME SUSPECT and Maria Bello were supposed to be NBC’s Designated PrimeTime Saviors.
    Problem was, by the time the show finally got on, the public was already sick of it.
    Maybe, if they’d used a different title, made it more distinct from the British original …
    … but then, there’s the matter of HAWAII FIVE-O, with the same title, same character names, but totally different than the original – and it becomes a hit in spite of everything I’ve just said.
    Maybe because right now CBS is hot and NBC is cold.

    William Goldman said it about movies, but it applies just as much to TV:

  9. I agree, Ronald. I don’t even know why they kept the name. It was a bit like the Americanized Cracker, and they should have learned their lesson from that. I don’t know what they were thinking.

    And now, the show is benched. Which means pending cancellation, I guess.

  10. I found Maria Bello’s character too harsh and very unlikeable. It is very hard to get people to watch shows where the main character is off putting. I just watched Prime Suspect 1 again and it confirmed by
    worst fear the current series is (PSINO) Prime Suspect in Name Only. They should have named it something else. The original Prime Suspect changed the cop show genre because the story was excellent and the acting and production were top notch as well.
    The current series simply should not have been made.
    It is the laziest kind of television, expecting the viewer to connect with a character without benefit of having built a solid foundation. The shows is really bad and I’m glad its gone. I don’t like the new Five-O either but i’m not in that shows target audience.

  11. I think they started off too harsh with her, but were smoothing out the edges and making her a much more likable character.

    I completely agree about the name, though. They never should have used the name. It was a death blow. But the series was starting to have some real potential.

  12. I agree the show had nothing in common with the British version, but I loved Bella’s character from day one. Can’t believe you guys thought she was too harsh. Cops are supposed to be hard-faced. Loved how she straightened out the boyfriend’s ex-wife about the visiting child.