Fox's 'Lone Star' gets lost in the galaxy of premiere week
It was called "better than almost anything else new this season" by the Washington Post, and the New York Times said it was "clever" while USA Today gave it three and a half out of four stars and gushed that the show is "hard not to love."Despite such high praise from many television critics, Fox's new 9 p.m. drama "Lone Star" about a Texas con man's dual lives couldn't get arrested in the ratings as only 4.06 million viewers tuned in to the show's premiere episode. It lost more than half of its lead-in audience from "House."
So are the critics out of touch?
Maybe. But just as likely is that "Lone Star," which stars James Wolk as Bob Allen, a con man juggling two lives and dealing with his pushy father, played David Keith, and his even more pushy boss, played by Jon Voight, was thrown to the lions Monday night against tough competition. (For more on Monday night's ratings, please visit our sister site Show Tracker.)
This happens every fall. Some shows get lost in the shuffle amid all the hype for the new season. Although "Lone Star" has a strong pedigree -- its executive producers include "Party of Five" creators Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman and the pilot episode was directed by Marc Webb, the director of the 2009 indie hit "500 Days of Summer" -- that wasn't enough for the drama to make a mark in its debut.
With its dark plot about a swindler hustling two families and even a small town, "Lone Star" doesn't exactly lend itself to an easy-sell marketing campaign. This is one of those programs that viewers actually have to pay attention to as opposed to having it on as background noise like so many network procedural dramas.
That being the case, "Lone Star" might have benefited from a little more care in its launch. It squared off in its opening night against NBC's heavily hyped new drama "The Event," the second hour of ABC's powerhouse "Dancing With the Stars" and the series premiere of CBS' juggernaut comedy "Two and a Half Men." That's a potential recipe for disaster for any show.
Fox might have been better off letting its rivals premiere their shows and waiting a few weeks before pushing "Lone Star" so it wouldn't get lost in all that hoopla. Perhaps it could have given the show a berth after the World Series, which the network carries, or it could have waited until mid-season.
Then there is the issue of whether "Lone Star" is a typical Fox show. After all, it's not a cartoon and doesn't have characters that break into hits from the 1980s every ten minutes, which means it is seen as a tough sell for the Fox audience.
But people said the same thing about the medical drama "House" when it made its debut, and that show has gone on to become a standout for the network.
Fox executives hope that somehow the numbers for "Lone Star" will go up when ratings that account for people who record shows and watch later are factored in. But that seems unlikely since the shows that have the highest digital video recorder or TiVo ratings tend to also do well in their on-air telecast.
In previous TV seasons, network executives have stressed that they can't afford to be patient with programs that fail to catch on. This time around, though, with so many new shows being launched, patience may again become a virtue. Otherwise, lots of good shows will die premature deaths. At the same time, networks have to break this habit of launching their fall shows all at once. Whatever happened to counter-punching?
-- Joe Flint
Photo: James Wolk, (right) and Jon Voight star in Fox's "Lone Star. Credit: Bill Matlock/Fox