There's that ubiquitous line from the Narcotics Anonymous handbook: "Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results."
I think it's been pretty much confirmed by now that the major television networks are insane.
Case in point: the new series Zero Hour, a Da Vinci Code-style mystery genre series that premieres tonight on ABC. It's a series that barely even tries to cover up the fact that it's just going through the motions. It's the latest in a long series of attempts by network television to replicate the mystery-thriller success that was LOST. As you probably know, all of these high-profile attempts have failed, spectacularly, usually after less than a season. The Event, Terra Nova, Persons Unknown -- we remember these shows, but barely, and never on their terms.
Nobody seems to be as unwilling to learn from these mistakes as ABC, the network that already had significant missteps with such attempts as FlashForward and V. Those shows, however, had moments of actual brilliance, and it looked like effort had been put into crafting them. But that was back when ABC was desperate for a successor to the former gem in its crown.
With Zero Hour, though, any of that desperation or effort has long since faded away; Zero Hour feels like a lame shrug of an attempt, a gas station lotto ticket that ABC doesn't honestly believe will be a success. It fills out the genre series checklist halfheartedly, complete with flashbacks, shamelessly expository dialogue, and completely unsympathetic stock characters. And good luck making sense of the plot -- it's been tied around itself in knots in an invitation for us genre fans to untangle it. There's some religious mumbo jumbo, quite a lot of focus on clocks and maps (and maps in clocks!), and hey, Nazis, because why not? It's all a bit insulting, really. The fact that ABC gave us this tripe instead of ordering more of a great show like Last Resort? Even worse. (To ABC: If you'd put the money used to make this into making more unique and well-written shows like Last Resort, you probably wouldn't be competing with NBC for last place.)
It'd be easy to go ahead and make some general statements about what Zero Hour means: does it mark the death of genre shows on network television. Nah, it doesn't. But what it does mark is a new low in the long list of LOST-replicant attempts, and a new low for television this year (one that should be pretty tough to beat). I've never been one for being relentlessly critical, but seriously? Don't waste your time with Zero Hour. You'll wish you could have that hour back. I know I do.