Harper’s Island Ate My Dingo (Or What Was CBS Thinking?)

CBS decided to try something new.  They created a show that was billed as a mystery/thriller one-season series.  They even gave it their cushiest time slot (after CSI).  They filled the cast up with both hot young actors and actresses and recognized older actors and actresses.  The show was a huge disappointment in ratings and was banished to Saturday Nights where it pulls in around 4 million viewers and a 1.0 to 1.1 in the all important 18-49 demo.

First lets clear up something about the show.  It is not a mystery/thriller.  It is a horror movie/slasher film drawn out over 13 episodes with some drama thrown in.  Each episode has someone get brutally murdered in a somewhat creative way and the pilot had multiple deaths including a man being cut in half while desperately trying to fight off the killer.  This wasn’t what audiences were expecting and they quickly tuned out.

I have to admit I’ve slightly enjoyed watching the series on my DVR and noticing that it has more plot holes than a normal hslasher movie.  It’s all based on a wedding on an island and nobody seems to notice members of the bride’s party or groom’s party disappearing.  It is supposed to take place over a week on this island, and nobody notices the “favorite lovable uncle,” is missing (after not showing up after a text that he was running off with a young hottie for a short while)?  He’s the life of the party!  How could anyone not notice?  When one of the bride’s friends disappears people just assume “she must have gone back to the mainland,” because that is what normal people do (leave wedding parties and never tell anyone).

The acting is actually not bad at all even if they’re mostly ex-WB/CW younguns.  The writing so far isn’t that bad either with the exception of the glaring plot holes that all slasher movies seem to have.  However it was last night’s episode that I watched earlier today with a few friends over when the show reached a new low.

The Sheriff of this little island is played by Jim Beaver (and played well) who some might recognize as “Bobby,” from SUPERNATURAL.  On SUPERNATURAL Bobby often calls the Winchester Boys in to some nasty situation where people are being killed by some creature/thing straight from horror novels.  Last night there was a point where the Sheriff looks bewildered and has figured out that a serial killer is loose on the island.  He takes a step outside and walks down some stairs and pulls out a cell phone.  For any fan of SUPERNATURAL you’d recognize the entire scene.  Bobby has figured out something bad is going on and he’s calling the boys in to deal with it.  This was when my friend stated “You know what would make this show 100 times better?  If he called the Winchester boys in to deal with this stupid killer.”

Which is when you realize just how bad a show has gotten, when you start wishing it was another show entirely!  I realized then that CBS had made some really huge mistakes (well to be honest I realized it the first episode, but I had more data to pull on now).

So how did CBS go wrong?    First they let people think it was a “whodunit,” where fans could tune in and try and solve the mystery.  That actually isn’t a bad idea for a one season run program that is specifically designed to run in that fashion.  The idea actually intrigues me.  I think if they’d made a straight up whodunit without the slasher aspect they’d have had something.  The slasher aspect scared off one too many viewers.  There is just no reason to show the people get killed, and there is also little reason for them to be so violent.  Taking pages out of SCREAM and SAW are not needed. We’re talking about the CBS audience here.  They’re the wrong audience entirely for that kind of thing.  They like seeing the dead bodies and people figuring out how/why.

However lets be honest.  Slasher movies do well, and if this had been advertised as a teen scream on the little screen it may have done better (probably would have).

It’s a shame CBS squandered what was a neat opportunity that was supposed to last into summer and provide something entirely different from normal tv scheduling.  I hope they try again in a few years but do it the right way for their audience.  What they made might have worked on NBC or the CW, but not on CBS.

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12 responses to “Harper’s Island Ate My Dingo (Or What Was CBS Thinking?)

  1. My one correction here would be that every person that’s gone missing HAS been referenced in the script (“Uncle Marty” sent a text to say he was off partying with some hot young thing and not to worry, a text that was obviously sent from the killer). The only one not referenced was one of the bridesmaids, but that’s because it was unwisely cut from the episode in editing.

  2. Vaughn, that was the reason he missed the breakfast, 2 days later and no one is even mentioning him! It’s a wedding, he’s the only family the groom has besides a brother! It just didn’t make sense in that context. The quick “Oh he’s messing around,” did but not for days.

    I’m assuming the bridesmaid sent a text as well? Because that makes sense, nobody would question that or try calling.

    It is what it is, entertaining in the same way any horror movie is, but like most horror movies it doesn’t make sense at times and nor does it have to. I believe the show was just improperly marketed and also improperly chosen for CBS. It doesn’t fit their audience.

  3. Totally. It’s a show that I can see the glaring flaws with all the time, but has a sort of guilty pleasure entertainment factor about it that still makes it watchable. It’s hot water bottle TV. And it was a good experiment that the network didn’t know what to do with. I guess you could compare its fate with Day Break (though the extremely densely packed narrative was probably more of a turn-off for viewers there).

  4. Jennifer Roland

    I’m with you, Nick. The biggest failure for this show was in the advertising. I’m not a big CBS viewer, but I only heard about the show from bloggers. Never once did I see an ad.

  5. Yeah, it is kind of a guilty pleasure. I am still interested in who the killer (or killers) turns out to be, but some of the actors are really soap-ish. I like the British guy and his (soon-to-be) fiance, they’re neat.

    Also, I think another turn off for the average viewer is the HUGE cast. I really can’t keep track of who the hell all these people are.

  6. I think it’s a fun show. I think Malcolm’s next because every person that’s held that gun has died.

  7. kitsimpson

    It’s not this, it’s not that, and it’s not interesting. We know there’s no point trying to figure out who the killer is because there won’t be any real rational motivation. Right now I’m suspecting the British guy because he’s the last one you’d suspect. That’s not mystery, that’s slasher. On the other hand, as a slasher it’s pretty tame. A couple of screams, some thrashing around, and the killing is over.

    Pointless, and as you say, a good opportunity lost.

  8. I like HI. I cannot recal a show where they exlored a slasher/serial killer format. No way will it return for another series but i have to admit i am a fan.

  9. Jennifer, well they did run adverts on CBS, it’s just not the CBS audience’s type of show.

    Sam B, you need a huge cast when you have 13 episodes and promise someone will die in each one!

    Barbara, did the guy who died last night touch that gun? I can’t seem to remember.

    kitsimpson, it definitely is a slasher type of show, and you’re right there will likely be no real rationalization. The slasher aspects aren’t enough to appease Slasher fans, and too much for normal CBS audiences.

    The opportunity to provide a real whodunit has unfortunately been lost for awhile.

  10. Nick C, that’s true! Perhaps its just that they all have such similar roles. For instance, the bridesmaids are all very nondescript. If the overall story situation was different (i.e. something other than a wedding), then it might be easier to differentiate.

  11. Joseph G. Mitzen

    Wasn’t a one-season style whodunit tried before with Fox’s “Reunion”, albeit with a story told both in the present and in the past? The mystery was not only who was the killer, but who had gotten killed, and I believe it was cancelled before viewers even learned who the victim was.

  12. Joseph G Mitzen, I had totally blocked out REUNION. I remember watching an episode and deciding to never annoy myself again with it. I’ll give HARPER’S ISLAND credit, it is far more entertaining than REUNION.

    HARPER’S ISLAND may have done better if it had been promoted as a Slasher tv show but who knows.