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The Killing: Who Didn’t Do It

July 28, 2011

I don’t want to write a piece about The Killing, if for no other reason than I hate calling further attention to this drama.  But even though the last episode aired over a month ago, I’m bothered by the troublesome way the network and the producer handled themselves.  Given recent articles in the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, I am not alone.  For background, I recommend reading Tim Goodman or Tim Goodman or listening to Tim Goodman.  (Have I ever mentioned that I really love Tim Goodman?)  To summarize, this freshman series was a murder mystery without a conclusion (although one will be provided sometime in Season 2.)  Certainly there are loyal fans who will tune in.  Generally, though, AMC is in the uncomfortable position of having to stand firmly behind a show that’s experiencing backlash from all corners.

1) Your marketing should be based on your true product, not on glamourous spin.  The mistakes made with The Killing began the moment AMC decided to build their press releases almost exclusively on the positive response in Europe to Forbrydelsen, the Danish program on which The Killing is based.  Each season of Forbrydelsen ends with the killer being revealed, and the implication was the same structure would be used to craft the American version.  The network’s executive Charlie Collier recently told Entertainment Weekly that it was never their intention to misguide the public.  That may be true since Senior VP Joel Stillerman divulged at today’s TCA panel that the network didn’t know that showrunner Veena Sud wasn’t going to reveal her killer.  Certainly, I know zero people who weren’t expecting a solution.  Now no one behind the scenes is sharing information about Season 2, not even to reveal which actors have been signed to continue their characters.  So audience expectations are still being mismanaged.

2) Breaking with tradition doesn’t necessarily make you an artistic genius.  Sud claims to have been “fascinated” by her “novel” process.  But well executed slow-burn writing has to captivate the audience, not just enthrall the writer.  Instead, we were sent down blind alleys and forced to snort a boatload of red herrings.  Contrary to Sud’s assertions, not all disappointed viewers were seeking the basic procedural which wraps up neatly in 60 minutes.  I loved Murder One, which had the misfortune of being knocked off in the ratings by the real-life O.J. Simpson trial.  It was leisurely paced, but never lost excitement.  I count The Wire  among the best television I have ever seen.  While many questions posed in year one weren’t answered until year five, each season felt complete and satisfying. In this case, the plot stalled and many viewers have simply stopped caring where it’s headed.

Why? The artistic tools Sud chose were developed to find the killer/solve the mystery.  Not doing so is akin to using a chainsaw to smooth out the edges of an antique hutch.  The ending felt less like a cliffhanger and more like an “incomplete” in English Comp.   A mystery writer friend of mine, A. E. Tyree, shared, “The actors did a great job, but in service of what?  I don’t mind people moving outside the rigid structure of a specific genre, but if you didn’t want to solve the murder, make your show a character study about an obsessive female detective, not a murder mystery/police drama. There is such a thing as stepping too far outside a genre.”

3) Never talk down to your audience in public.  Sud has added fuel to the post-finale fire by talking down to displeased viewers.  In hindsight, AMC should have provided her with some media training.  Without our eyeballs, bills don’t get paid.  Publicly at least, they must stand by her; It’s critical to their lineup that The Killing be a success.  With Mad Men delayed and The Walking Dead’s budget crunch costing them a strong showrunner, the network is hurting.  Maybe when the profits are counted, the powers behind this exercise in frustration will make the necessary changes.  Surprise us, sure!  Shock us, even better!!!  Leave us empty handed, we’ll reach for the remote.  DVD sales are likely to be weak given the season’s lack of resolution(s) and some Emmy voters have gone on record saying they withdrew support for the program (although thankfully not the actors).  I don’t believe in development by mandate, but I do believe in wise creative leadership.  This talented cast and poor dead Rosie Larsen deserve a product worthy of the initial buzz.

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