CBS and NBC have begun chopping low-performing new programs, to go along with Fox’s placing of Happy Hour on "hiatus."

CBS has cancelled its ill-advised drama Smith, and NBC has dropped Kidnapped.

Ray Liotta, central character of CBS TV program Smith

The networks’ penchant for "dark" dramas seems to have backfired in these instances, and it seems likely that more casualties will happen soon. 

It was easy to predict that Smith would be a disaster. The show’s central characters are thieves, and not attractive, suave, clever ones like those played by Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the like in recent films, people who brilliantly sneak into guarded facilities and slip out with the slag without being detected. No, the thieves in Smith are basically armed robbers, and their hesits are violent and result in injuries and deaths of innocents.

That’s not a formula likely to appeal to normal people, and the casting of Ray Liotta and Virginia Masden as the central couple sealed the deal: neither of these two talented performers has ever proven to be the type of person one would be inclined to invite into the living room every week. With such a low likeability factor on so many levels, it’s a wonder CBS ever went forward with the series. Now it’s gone.


PR photo of actress Dana Delany exemplifying the grimness of NBC TV program Kidnapped


Timothy Hutton does appear to be a likeable chap, especially from his time as Archie Goodwin on the excellent, unhappily short-lived A&E series Nero Wolfe, and Dana Delaney has been on popular programs before, but Kidnapped tossed their likeability aside in order to emphasize their anguish as wealthy parents of a kidnapped fifteen-year-old son.

Delroy Lindo is appealing in the program as a police inspector, but the lion’s share of the running time of each episode has been given over to an uninteresting private consultant who helps families deal with kidnappings. Jeremy Sisto appears to be playing the character as well as possible, but the producers’ decision to make the series unrelievedly "dark" prevents him from giving the character much of a personality.

That’s the problem with the show as a whole: The whole thing tries so hard to be serious that it ends up being depressing.

The producers of these programs could learn a lot from Donald Belisarius, creator of the current CBS-TV program NCIS and previous hits JAG and Magnum: P.I.

Belisarius understands the importance of comic relief and likeable characters in TV crime dramas. The little quirks and interesting character relationships in NCIS are often as appealing as the crimes the characters are trying to solve, and that’s never a bad thing. The best thing about a mystery is the mystery, but too much gloom and doom indicates a lack of perspective on the producers’ part, and it tends to push audiences away fairly quickly.

This season’s new "dark" programs may be imitating 24 to some extent, but they fail to recognize the optimism at the center of Fox’s hit show: no matter how bad things get, Jack Bauer is going to fix them at the end of the day (literally!). Jack’s resourcefulness and indomitable spirit make him not only admirable but also likeable, and that is what these new, dark dramas tend to lack.

A crime story without optimism is like a romance without love: It can be interesting, but there’s no lasting pleasure in it.