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The Assets — the perfect model of dysfunctional network TV

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


Earlier this year ABC premiered the series The Assets based on real life CIA agent Aldrich Ames (Paul Rhys) who in the 1980s was working for the CIA but spying for the KGB. As CIA assets in Russia begin being arrested and executed for treason, CIA officer Sandy Grimes (Jodie Whittaker) hunts the mole not knowing that the traitor is literally sitting a few feet from her desk.

Never heard of The Assets? You're not alone.

The Assets was John le Carré-lite and I was genuinely interested in where this eight episode limited series was headed. Except after two low rated airings ABC pulled The Assets from their lineup and effectively canceled the show.

Which was bad enough, only I never got the sense that ABC was all that keen on airing The Assets in the first place.

I'm a guy who watches a lot of TV and actively follows the comings and goings of TV series as a hobby. In any a given week I probably watch something like eight to 10 hours of new programming, but in all that programming I only saw a promo for The Assets once. And that was on a cable channel, not ABC. And I never saw any web or magazine ads for the show either.
This totally mystifies me. If ABC didn't have confidence in The Assets then why put it on the air in the first place? And when they made the decision to air it why didn't they promote it properly to at least give it a chance of finding some footing in the highly competitive modern television landscape?

This sort of thing doesn't happen on either basic or pay cable. There, you know that if you invest time in a series it's not going to be cancelled out from under you in the middle of a season. It's not that cable series don't get cancelled, they do. It's that they're only cancelled and pulled from the lineup after a full season has aired, not just a handful of episodes.

There used to be a day when the networks were known for airing quality and innovative drama series, but other than a few interesting shows those days are long gone. Now the networks have abandoned quality and interesting dramas to the cable channels and instead rely on tried and true (and boring) procedural shows where the good guys always win and the plots are all recycled from shows stretching back over the last 60+ years to the westerns of 'ol.

Which means that viewers have slowly started not taking chances on watching new network TV series like The Assets and skip them entirely. Why take a chance on any network drama when most that airs there is dreck anyway and anything that might be interesting could be cancelled and pulled from the schedule at any moment?

With The Assets being just eight episodes long and me being interested in the material I was in for the long haul with the series to the end. An end that I don't think will ever come.

And to be honest I'm not sure if The Assets was destined to be one of the great series or not. Just two episodes of TV isn't much to go on but just the idea that a network would cancel something before it had a chance to find its footing or build an audience from word of mouth is frustrating.

There used to be a time when the networks would "burn off" the remaining episodes of cancelled shows like The Assets during the summer TV season when there was really nothing else on, but now that the summer season is full of reality shows that doesn't much happen anymore. What will probably happen is that ABC will instead run the remaining six episodes of The Assets online before the shows slips into total obscurity, and/or the entire The Assets series will end up on the Amazon or Netflix streaming services at some point in the future.
It's like the networks are getting really good at training the viewers to not watch their channels, so good job ABC, lesson learned! Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.

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