JJ. Abrams Explains Why ‘Mythology-Lite’ Undercovers Failed

At this week’s FOX TCA party JJ. Abrams was asked about his thoughts on the network moving the Fringe to Fridays. Looking over his comments, particularly some of the fuller interview reports, I have to commend his honesty – or at least his decision to keep the BS on a low dial.

But Fringe and his other ongoing projects (Alcatraz, Person of Interest, Pulp, Star Trek) weren’t the only topics he was quizzed about. The cancelation of his NBC spy drama Undercovers was also on the agenda, with Abrams agreeing with my personal belief that the show wasn’t helped by its failure to deliver mythology quickly enough.

It’s quite a big turn around from a year or two ago when he seemed to treat serialization and mythology in television with disdain. Head past the jump to read for yourself what he had to say on the matter, specifically in relation to Undercovers.

What are your thoughts on what happened withUndercovers?

ABRAMS: I’ve got to say, I feel like it was unfortunate. Of course, I completely blame myself for the entire thing. The conceit of the show was to do a much more frivolous, fun show, but ultimately, I think it was just too frivolous and too simple, and we didn’t go deep enough. We were really desperately trying to stay away from mythology and complexity and intensity and too much serious, dark storytelling and, ultimately, that’s not necessarily what I do best. I think audiences felt that it was a little bit lacking. I see that and completely take responsibility for its failing.

Did it surprise you that the demographics for that show skewed so much older than expected?

ABRAMS: Yeah. All around, it unfortunately just didn’t work the way I wanted it to. I especially feel for the actors, who are incredibly talented and wonderful. The directors we got, the editors and the crew was awesome. The idea that I would somehow squander really talented people’s time and take them and us away from our families and other work we have to do, it was a real heartbreaker. Again, I feel completely responsible.

Are you worried that networks will now shy away from having two African American leads on another show because this one failed?

ABRAMS: I would desperately hope that no one, including network executives, would see the failure of Undercovers as a reflection of the race of the cast. It obviously had absolutely zero to do with that. It was completely my responsibility and not anyone else’s. I don’t think anyone is going to think that. Instead of that, I think they would say, “Series that have a premise that’s too light and too disposable and too frivolous won’t work.” Audiences want more. They want something that is more emotionally true and resonates a little more. I think the true failing of the show was that it didn’t go deep enough and it wasn’t about enough. Everyone, including Josh Reims, with whom I created the show, followed my lead. It was all my doing.

Well played by Abrams. I guess this shows that even the best in the entertainment biz never stop learning. While I certainly don’t begrudge him from trying other things – no-one should fence themselves in – it’s clear that in certain cases (Fringe, Undercovers), deeper, more interconnected storytelling is part of the show’s DNA. By ignoring it you get something that doesn’t quite play right. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but would anyone argue that Fringe has been creatively stronger since executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J. H. Wyman embraced the show’s central arc and reduced the standalone episodes?

Like Abrams, I also hope the cancelation of Undercovers doesn’t sway or ‘excuse’ networks from developing diverse shows with diverse casts. That would be foolish.

Source: Collider

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  1. Page 48 says

    I think JJ really whiffed on this one. A quick audience poll would have saved him and NBC a lot of time and trouble. I know there will always be those who claim that this is just another example of blacks being held back in America, but I’m not buying it for a second.

    “Undercovers” didn’t fail because people couldn’t embrace Gugu and Boris (embracing Gugu is on my bucket list by the way). UC failed because it did nothing to excite or engage viewers. Along with standalone “Fringe”, it was another example of JJ’s mysterious anti-“Alias” hangup and it got crushed immediately and deservedly when it failed to deliver, in 13 episodes, what Alias” could often deliver in 13 minutes.

    JJ, embrace the mythology. It’s in your DNA, grab the Bad Robot’s hand and run with it.

    Like: Thumb up 0

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