While the sheer volume of television on the air right now can be exciting to think about, considering how many networks are taking chances and how many new ideas there are floating around, it’s often self-defeating, as there are only so many eyeballs to go around. Quality projects are slipping under the radar now more than ever thanks to increased DVR penetration, the rise of VOD viewing, and the amount of clutter a series has to fight through in order to break out. Rather than having a series of obvious renewals and cancellations, most networks are now forced to surgically examine the pros and cons that go with each project decide what separates a lost cause from a series that simply needs a little more nurturing. It’s certainly an unenviable position to be in, trying to navigate this new frontier in the television world, and as such, factors that normally wouldn’t play a role in renewal have become make or breaks in certain situations.
One such series that hasn’t had a chance to break out is VH1 romantic dramedy Hindsight, a mish-mash of Buddhist proverbs, time travel, and 90s pop culture references that quietly debuted earlier this year. Set in 1995, the series follows 40-something Becca Brady (Laura Ramsey) as she finds herself transported 20 years into the past in order to reassess where exactly her life went wrong. It’s a Trojan Horse of a series housing important, surprisingly deep musings on regret, control, and loss, all dressed up by jokes about Melrose Place and your favorite Gin Blossoms song, and greatly differs from preconceived notions about what a VH1 series is, should be, and can be. Not surprisingly, it’s been a bit of a square peg in the round hole the network has become, but this doesn’t mean that VH1 should scrap such promise without ever giving Hindsight a chance to fulfill its potential.
Hindsight‘s main problem is that it’s never had an opportunity to be sampled, with its series high in viewers a shade below 400,000. Tossing out its highest and lowest numbers, every rating it’s earned has been within the same 120,000 range, a steadiness that indicates an engaged audience that’s stuck around. Additionally, several of those results have come with repeat lead-ins, a sign that VH1’s decision to pair Hindsight, a fairly low-key scripted series with a big heart, with Mob Wives, one of its stable of high drama reality series, didn’t have much of an impact on the former’s success. Tonally and in terms of content, the two couldn’t be more different and it became clear early that they had their own distinct audiences; granted, Mob Wives wasn’t the worst lead-in choice VH1 could have made, but to toss Hindsight, a show that clearly didn’t fit into the core of what the network was doing, aside because it didn’t fit in with one of the network’s more outrageous offerings feels self-defeating and wasteful. Hindsight is a show that would’ve been better served by being surrounded with more similar shows (e.g. Candidly Nicole, Dating Naked, and/or Couples Therapy) that, while not as highly rated as Mob Wives, could’ve captured more of the same audience that would’ve been in tune with what it was doing.
Were Hindsight to be cancelled, VH1 would be down to one scripted series – summer soap Hit the Floor, which doesn’t premiere until late May. With nothing else in development at the moment, a decision on Hindsight feels like it will help determine the course of VH1’s involvement in scripted programming. If it doesn’t make it, all signs point to VH1 backing away from scripted television and only focusing on shows that fit with its bigger lead-ins, which would be a shame considering that 2015 is the prime of scripted television. Although the network’s greatest successes have been reality series, having enough of a scripted presence brings the type of legitimacy that all the Love & Hip Hop incarnations in the world cannot. Scripted is the difference between being seen in the same breath as an MTV or a Lifetime, networks that VH1 isn’t that far removed from, and a TLC or a Discovery, which have consistently drawn criticism and ire in recent years. With other female-focused cable networks getting into the scripted game (e.g. Bravo with Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, E! with The Royals), VH1 is in a dangerous position if they cancel Hindsight. They could conceivably be ceding ground to their rivals and becoming a less important network for advertisers, who generally pay more for ads on scripted than reality, especially since they’ve already cancelled/burned off a slew of reality series in the past few months (e.g. Sorority Sisters, Bye Felicia!, Suave Says, Hollywood Exes, Eddie & LeAnn).
Although it’s entirely valid for them to want a certain ratings level on Wednesday, which has been one of their lower priority and lower rated days for quite a while, it might be okay to use the day to nurture a scripted series and continue having a scripted presence in two quarters of the year. Keeping Hindsight would send a powerful message to the creative community – not only is VH1 open to all types of scripted programming, it’s a network that will take care of your show. It won’t act like a broadcast network and cancel shows that weren’t really given a chance to succeed; it’ll show patience with series that garner critical attention (see: Hindsight‘s 72 on Metacritic) and provide the type of support that quieter projects need in order to survive. Were Hindsight to be cancelled, it would show that VH1 isn’t willing to put in the work necessary to protect shows that fall outside its comfort zone, that any writer with a promising script that doesn’t fit a certain type should look to another network if they want a chance at success. If VH1 is serious about having a scripted footprint and about making the march toward legitimacy, about returning music to a network (see: Hindsight‘s early 90s-heavy Spotify playlist) whose only connections to the music industry have become tangential at best, they will renew Hindsight and provide such a quality project with whatever necessary in order for it to succeed.
Despite its small audience, this is a network defining series that will determine the direction VH1 goes from here on out. And unfortunately, VH1 doesn’t have the ability to time travel and rectify the bad decision that cancelling Hindsight would be. Therefore, they should do the right thing and renew it the first time around.
Hindsight airs Wednesdays at 10:00 on VH1. You can check out recaps for the first nine episodes of the season here, while the series is available through VH1.com, the free VH1 app, and your cable provider’s on demand service. It’s also available for purchase on iTunes.