from the Vancouver Sun
Updated: Wednesday 27 October 1999
Harsh Realm's harsh
Alex Strachan, Sun Television Critic Vancouver Sun
OVER AND OUT: D.B. Sweeney and Scott Bairstow (front) led the cast of Chris Carter's Harsh Realm, cancelled by Fox after only three episodes made it to air.
Harsh Realm has come to a fast end. Fox Broadcasting entertainment president Doug Herzog confirmed Tuesday that the network has cancelled both Harsh Realm and its Friday-night lead-in, Ryan Caulfield: Year One.
Global, which simulcasts both series in Canada, has no say in the matter and will have to scramble to fill the gaps. Fox plans to fill the void this week with reality specials, and in future weeks with movies.
The news was met with stunned disbelief at Harsh Realm's production office at Lions Gate Studios in North Vancouver. Hopes had been high for the series, which hails from X-Files creator Chris Carter. The Fox network had ordered 13 episodes of the series, one of the most expensive on television. Just three episodes have aired.
In a phone interview from Los Angeles late Tuesday, Carter said Harsh Realm was the victim of poor scheduling and nonexistent promotion. He said he will fly to Vancouver Thursday to thank his crew in person.
"People put in a tremendous amount of hard work," Carter said. "So many good people worked on the show, people I had worked with before and also new people that I had never worked with. I am very happy to have known them, and I feel that the next time I bring a show to Vancouver I will have a greater awareness of the talent pools there."
Many crew members, including Emmy Award-winning sound mixer Michael Williamson and Emmy-nominated cinematographer Joel Ransom, are holdovers from X-Files' Vancouver years. Carter's other Vancouver-based series for Fox, Millennium, was cancelled earlier this year.
Harsh Realm crew members reached Tuesday said they did not want to comment on the record because they had been asked to leave official statements to network and studio spokespersons. Privately, many said that while they think they will find other work in Vancouver's frenetic production scene, they are nonetheless surprised at the decision.
"You don't do something like this to a major player like Chris Carter without some serious moves going on behind the scenes," one crew member said. "This is a major, major cancellation."
Faced with a similar situation of a low-rated show from a highly respected producer, ABC has decided to retire its Thursday-night drama Wasteland for the November ratings period. But network brass have promised to relaunch the show in December, saying in a statement "we believe in the talents of creator Kevin Williamson [Dawson's Creek] and the cast." Carter said he would have appreciated the same consideration.
Harsh Realm's cancellation is especially strange because Carter recently signed a multi-year deal with 20th Century-Fox Television that makes him one of the highest-paid producers in the medium, a group that includes David E. Kelley, Steven Bocho and John Wells.
In spite of that deal, Carter said he has met his contractual obligations to the Fox network and is now free to shop future series to other networks.
"I will still say to anybody who will listen that [Harsh Realm] was a good show. It was well acted, well written, well directed --well done in general," he said.
"The pilot tested extremely well. But over the summer they didn't spend any money promoting the show. People didn't come to the show because they didn't even know it was on."
Carter added that, poor ratings aside, he found the network's decision bizarre. "These are very nervous times in network television, more so even than a year ago."
The studio can shop Harsh Realm to another network, but Carter said he has seen no indication that it will even try to do so.
Fox's fall performance has been nothing short of disastrous, with virtually every new series either cancelled or on hiatus. Get Real and Action, two first-year series, are on the brink of cancellation, while sophomore cartoon Family Guy has been yanked indefinitely. Yet another first-year series, Manchester Prep, was cancelled before it even aired, and the debut of Party of Five spinoff Time of Your Life was delayed while the pilot was entirely rewritten and recast.
Carter has seen his share of controversy in recent weeks. First, he was implicated, though not named as a defendant, in a suit against 20th Century-Fox Television by X-Files actor David Duchovny. Duchovny is suing the studio for residuals he says are owed him when the company sold X-Files reruns to a Fox-owned cable network for less than fair market value.
Then Carter was named among several defendants, including 20th Century-Fox Television, in a lawsuit filed by cartoonist James Hudnall, who claims he wasn't given proper credit for Harsh Realm's creation. The series was loosely based on the 1993 underground comic Harsh Realm, written by Hudnall and Andrew Parquette.
Harsh Realm's cancellation will surprise those who remember the early days of The X-Files, which debuted to tepid ratings but was kept on the air until it found an audience.
Harsh Realm debuted Oct. 8 to an audience of 7.5 million viewers in the U.S., placing it fourth in its time slot behind Now and Again, with 11.2 million viewers, Sabrina: The Teenage Witch (11 million) and the National League baseball playoffs (nine million). In its second week, Harsh Realm's audience fell to fewer than five million viewers, a calamitous drop-off that placed it ahead of only Ryan Caulfield and Wasteland among all prime-time shows from the so-called Big Four U.S. networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox).
By contrast, The X-Files debuted on Sept. 10, 1993, to 7.4 million viewers, but dropped only to 6.9 million viewers in its second week. The X-Files was averaging about seven million viewers when it was renewed for a second season.