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CW's "The Beautiful Life" Is Cursed, But Not Kickoff Cursed
September 30, 2009  | By David Bianculli

the-beautiful-life-tbl-top.jpgCW's The Beautiful Life TBL, its glossy new drama starring Mischa Barton, was scheduled to present its third episode tonight, but don't look for it. Two strikes -- two telecasts -- and it's already out.

Its replacement, for tonight at 9 ET, is a rerun of Melrose Place. That quick-kill fate may seem like a curse, but The Beautiful Life is not the latest victim of The Kickoff Curse. The series that's cursed this season, if the Kickoff Curse is going to come true again, is none other than... Melrose Place itself...

Melrose-Place.jpgWhat is the Kickoff Curse, who invented it, and how reliable is it? Good questions all. Here are the answers.

The Kickoff Curse says, simply, that the new TV series to beat the others to the starting gate in a given season -- in other words, the show that takes a calculated head start by premiering earliest among all new freshman series -- will fail to survive to see a second season.

Who invented it? I did, decades ago. I had more spare time back then.

How reliable is it as an indicator of first-year failure? Over one 12-year stretch, it claimed a dozen victims in a row. And in the 34 years since a network intentionally jumped the gun in hopes of giving a new series some early attention, only six series lived to fight another day. Or, at least, another year.

Last year, for example, NBC's America's Toughest Jobs was first to arrive. It's gone, and isn't coming back. The year before that, it was Fox's Nashville, which went Nowheresville. And the year before that, in 2006, it was Fox's Vanished, which... vanished. So the past three years, the Kickoff Curse is 3 for 3.


This season, CW's Melrose Place, premiering September 8, inherits the Kickoff Curse. With Heather Locklear coming aboard soon, maybe this series can survive the curse, but not many have. Most prominent among the survivors are the CBS sitcom Alice in the 70s, ABC's newsmagazine Primetime Live in the 80s, Fox's sitcom Roc in the 90s, and the Fox drama Prison Break in the current decade.

And except for a pair of fairly recent sitcoms from the now-defunct UPN network, Girlfriends and One on One from 2000-01, those are the only survivors of a curse that began way back in 1975, during the Gerald Ford administration.


The most famous victims of the Kickoff Curse include ABC's fabulous 1994 teen drama My So-Called Life, starring Claire Danes; 1984's Call to Glory, an ABC drama starring Craig T. Nelson that explored the Kennedy-era 1960s the way Mad Men is doing now; and 1990's Hull High, the NBC series that was the last show to attempt a weekly high-school musical series until the current Glee.

For the record, and for your amusement, here's the complete list of shows that faced the Kickoff Curse, along with their respective fates. Only shows which are underlined survived the curse.

Remember any of these? If most of the names don't ring a bell... well, that's the point.


2009......CW.....Melrose Place (fate unknown)
2008.....NBC.....America's Toughest Jobs
2005.....Fox.....Prison Break
2004.....Fox.....North Shore
2002......WB.....Family Affair
2001.....UPN.....One on One

1999.....UPN.....Grown Ups
1998.....Fox.....Holding the Baby
1997.....UPN.....Good News
1996.....Fox.....L.A. Firefighters
1995.....Fox.....The Crew
1994.....ABC.....My So-Called Life
1993.....Fox.....Front Page
1992.....ABC.....Covington Cross
1990.....NBC.....Hull High
1989.....ABC.....Primetime Live
1988.....NBC.....Baby Boom
1987.....NBC.....Private Eye
1986.....CBS.....The Wizard
1984.....ABC.....Call to Glory
1983.....NBC.....We Got It Made
1982.....NBC.....The Powers of Matthew Star
1981.....ABC.....Best of the West
1980.....CBS.....Ladies' Man
1978.....NBC.....Dick Clark's Live Wednesday
1977.....CBS.....The Betty White Show
1975.....CBS.....Big Eddie




dad1153 said:

Darn it Bianculli, you're a one-man TV killing machine. While most of the these shows deserved their short runs (Dick Clark's Live Wednesday... really??!!) your curse has taken down some worthy programming like "My So-Called Life." The few that escaped the curse were either good when they started but deteriorated later in the show's run (Fox's "ROC," a good sitcom that went down in flames when it switched to live telecasts), had a powerful Godfather looking up for them ("PrimeTime Live," a Roone Arledge pet project) or were on networks too weak and poor to cancel them and start from scratch (the UPN sitcoms). That leaves "Alice" and "Prison Break" as unexplained phenomenons but on both you could argue a 't-bag' made the difference that kept them running longer than they should have. :-P

Comment posted on September 30, 2009 12:53 PM

Rick Thorne said:

If you take just the last ten years (ignoring 2009, as the jury (viewer) is still out), then the average success rate works out to 30% (defining 'success' as renewed for a 2nd season).

This 30% batting average is equivalent to the overall success rate of all shows -- see the historical information (for all networks) at www.thefutoncritic.com/rant.aspx?id=20090928_10things

As such, there is not a (statistically valid) curse associated with the first show of the season. Instead; it merely follows the historical '30%' renewal rate.

[I'd argue, perhaps weakly, that opening up the curse to the "minor" networks, especially UPN and CW, dilutes the field, and the results. Had I limited things to the Big 4, and even more so what once were the Big 3, would have made it a much more impressive run. -- David B.]

Comment posted on September 30, 2009 12:59 PM

Neil said:

Careful. Don't confuse cause and effect. Most of the shows you listed aren't cursed because they jumped the gun. They started off bad, their networks jumped the gun hoping to overcome that deficiency by starting them before the competition, but all that really accomplished was to help the audience realize sooner how bad they were and go in search of better offerings in subsequent weeks.

You could actually make the case that Glee is actually the show deserving of the Kickoff Curse, since it premiered back last May. From what I've been reading, it's not going away anytime soon.

[You're absolutely right about the "troubled show gets the early start" idea -- but that's your chicken to my egg. And Glee was a one-time sneak preview, which arguably (again, perhaps a weak argument) is different. -- David B.]

Comment posted on September 30, 2009 1:08 PM

Just Chec king said:

Shouldn't "Glee" be considered this season's Kickofff TV series, since FOX aired the first episode back in May to generate early interest?

Comment posted on September 30, 2009 3:19 PM

Christina Williams said:

Wouldn't Glee be the potential kick-off curse victim, since they kicked off months ago?

[See below. -- David B.]

Comment posted on September 30, 2009 5:46 PM

Nathan said:

I'm curious about the conclusions here. It doesn't seem likely that a quality show would flop just because it was premiered early. . . do networks have a habit of launching a show early when they secretly know it's bad?

I was nine when "The Powers of Matthew Star" came out, and at the time it seemed like the show was made just for me. Someone has all the episodes up on youtube, but I wouldn't actually recommend watching them (unless you're ten or under).

"My So-Called Life" has left such a large cultural impression for a show that was so briefly on the air. Brain Eno famously said of the Velvet Underground, "Not many people bought their records originally, but everyone who did went on to form a band." You could say something similar of "My So-Called Life." Not many people saw the show originally, but everyone who did went on to have a blog.

Comment posted on October 1, 2009 1:32 AM
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