If you were about to begin a cross-country road trip with your two best college friends, you likely wouldn’t expect to discover that one of your companions has just blown up the Guggenheim Museum and framed you for the caper. And, if you were watching a hot new drama series, chances are increasing that it won’t be on the air long enough to resolve plotlines, explain mysteries or even rescue the girl.
I’ll spare us all a re-run of the recent statistics concerning cancelled shows. But, I’ve lost all interest in watching any new TV dramas with anything even approaching a story arc. Instead, I’m taking a Darwinian approach, waiting to see which shows survive, then watching them on DVD. Yes, I risk becoming part of the problem and yes, I have heard of self-fulfilling prophecies. But life’s too short to invest valuable time in yet another series destined to be cut short.
The latest example is Traveler, a classic fugitive storyline built from the ground up with a wealth of paranoia and confusion. The David Nutter-directed pilot was rich with pace, style, and intrigue. Nutter is something of a specialist at pilots, having directed them for Millennium, Roswell, Dark Angel, Supernatural, and Smallville, so it was no surprise to find that Traveler was one of the best received premieres of summer 2006.
So what went wrong? If you subscribe to the scuttlebutt, ABC decided it would be bad form to debut a show about a terrorist atrocity in Manhattan so close to September 11th, and so decided to hold Traveler over until midseason. Then in October 2006, the network announced that although it had originally ordered a 13-episode Traveler, it now only had room in its high quality line-up for eight. Following the failure of Kidnapped and Vanished, the writing was on the wall for grown-up dramas with arcing storylines. Fans of Veronica Mars began to worry and those of us who had already seen and enjoyed the Traveler pilot feared the worst. According to creator and producer David DiGilio, the production team had just two weeks to rework and condense their storyline, and to re-shoot and edit as necessary.
It’s obviously impossible to know how much these cuts affected the quality of the Traveler we saw. However, the series didn’t air until the 2007 summer burn-off—that period where forsaken TV shows go to die—so presumably the network was unimpressed. The slightly altered pilot (with a recast girlfriend) was given a “sneak preview” in the May Sweeps, then re-aired on 30 May. The remaining seven episodes followed on an almost weekly basis, concluding on 18 July. And at the end, my response was, “Yeah. Well, so what?”
Traveler over-promised and under-delivered. The casting was strong, particularly the pairing of Logan Marshall-Green and Matthew Bomer as the mismatched duo on the run. Marshall-Green was especially powerful as Tyler Fog, the poor little rich boy betrayed by his own father, and Bomer cultivated Clark Kent’s haircut in preparation for the role as Jay Burchell, the blue-collar boy with daddy issues of his own. But the execution let down all involved. The blame can’t all be laid at the feet of the network. If you have to cut five episodes from your schedule, why would you still throw over much of your penultimate episode to gratuitous couplings that bring nothing to the storyline?
So farewell, Will Traveler. I guess I’m never going to know just who was behind the mysterious Fourth Branch. Or what secrets were hidden in the mysterious miniature of John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence (it’s on the back of the two dollar bill, money fans!) that was stolen under the cover of a museum bombing? Or whether Carton Fog really was Tyler’s father. Or—and this is the only one I actually care about—who the hell The Porter (Billy Mayo) was working for.