ABC Family has cancelled one of my favorite shows of the last year—Huge. (On the chance you missed it, I highly recommend watching it online on ABC Family's website. Hopefully they'll leave it up awhile.)
It's sad, though not surprising. Huge had the kind of pedigree that often spells network doom. It was created by Winnie Holzman, whose other most famous achievement is the also-one-season critical darling My So-Called Life. It was also a summer series—rarely ratings bonanzas—and it only aired on a niche network. Still, that considered, it averaged about 1.9 million viewers over its run, which doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that the third season of Mad Men, for all its critical adulation, only averaged about 1.8 million viewers during its third season. It's true that the math is different on a network than at a cable channel, in terms of an acceptable amount of viewers, but still.
Fans, spearheaded by Jezebel, are organizing one of those campaigns, the kind I don't really understand, to try to pressure the network into giving the show another season. I doubt it will work, though I don't want to discourage anyone from signing the petition. I just don't really understand this particular variant of consumer activism, the "please-renew-my-favorite-show" campaign. For one thing, as I'm sure no one needs me to tell them, television is not really a democratic institution per se. Nor popular culture, on the broad scale anyway—if the entire existence of Bitch magazine proves nothing else, it is that pop culture is largely underinclusive and often overly dismissive of the experiences of women, people of color, trans people, people with disabilities, and on down the list. We pop culture critics find rays of light here and there, and try to give credit where credit is due, but on the whole I would not say pop culture criticism gives me much confidence that the men (and women!) in the halls of power are much prepared to hand over their megaphones. They are too busy making money to care about whether the product they are putting out is any good.
In that context, it's probably somewhat irrational of me to say, but I still can't help but think that somehow part of what sank Huge was that it took diversity seriously. And not to repeat myself from the last time I wrote about this issue, but this comes particularly clear when Huge is contrasted with the runaway success of Glee. Both shows make claims to being about diversity, but one does so by way of stereotypes and the other by way of characters that very closely resemble living, breathing human beings. And even on the broader scale of telelvision shows generally, Huge, in the end, is one of only a very few examples that I can think of of shows aimed at addressing some kind of marginalized experience that didn't let that "angle" overshadow the humanity of its characters. Flat sells, it seems, and until it doesn't, until people actually want depth and humanity in their stories, I don't think that shows this good can possibly survive.