Selfies and TV Network Self-Sabotage


As you may have heard, promising rom-com series “Selfie” has been canceled by ABC with only six episodes under its belt. This show, heavily advertised on the network, features an insufferable woman who is famous on social media but unable to form real connections with friends and co-workers. Realizing this, she enlists the help of a marketing guy to fix her image and coach her through basic social niceties like “How are you?”

I can’t comment on the quality of this show’s characters, plot, or humor as I haven’t watched any episodes, but I can certainly tell you my first impression:

“This show will not end well.”

Did it look charming? Yes. Did it have the potential for salient cultural commentary? Absolutely. But I didn’t think that Americans could handle it. The main character Eliza is irritating, but more importantly, she is a product of society–a reflection of how our generation is perceived.

No one wants to be reminded of the vanity inherent in selfies, no matter how the issue is spun. No one wants to admit that social media can–and often is–a substitution for genuine interaction. Why? Because it’s extremely uncomfortable. It’s like a mirror being turned onto ourselves. It’s not fun. I don’t even want to think about it.

Eliza’s newfound advisor and love interest Henry tells her that she is “addicted to instant gratification.” She’s more interested in “getting likes than being liked.” The narration in ABC’s teaser trailer opens with, “You probably know someone like Eliza.” The objective of the line is to separate you the viewer from people like Eliza, who favor their phones over their friends. But the thing is, are we Eliza? While the character is obviously exaggerated (posting nude selfies on Instagram and responding to compliments with agreement), she is more or less meant to be a vision of young people. This show may have alienated the very audience it targeted.

This is not to say that this show has done the wrong things, that we should reject or be sheltered from portrayals of modern narcissism, or that all the clickbait op-eds about us Millennials are even true. I only offer my perspective–a view that I haven’t really heard–on why this show that seems to be beloved by so many in its infancy is being cancelled.

I also have a feeling that “Selfie” suffers the same flaw as other former ABC shows. That is, the Crappy Name Syndrome. It’s very real. When approving ideas and programming, a network should be mindful of what will tip the scales in its favor (i.e. what will compel a viewer to recommend a TV show to a friend) and what won’t.

How do you know your next new flagship suffers from CNS?

  • It makes people uncomfortable.
  • It offends even the most sensible of people.
  • Even if the show is of high quality, people are embarrassed to talk about it.

CNS-ridden patients of ABC include “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” and “Cougar Town.”

“Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” lasted for two seasons before being canceled because of Nielsen ratings. It had its own hindrances to a wide audience (a parental warning, a historically bad time slot unsolved even today), but it was pretty well received by critics. I don’t know what made the suits cancel the show, but I can’t imagine that the name made viewers eager to watch it. The name is a turnoff to both potential viewers and viewers who would consider recommending it.

“Cougar Town.” A surprisingly witty show with a crappy name and a crappy beginning. It started as being about a recently divorced 40-year-old woman trying to rediscover herself by dating younger men, but the premise was ditched after the first season, making the show a lot stronger. The characters were rounded out and the humor was better. However, they were still stuck with a title that had unsavory associations and an irrelevance to the direction in which it was moving. It was a roadblock to potential viewers who would enjoy it if they watched an episode. The producers tried unsuccessfully to change its name for a few seasons–the silly name even became a joke–before it moved to TBS for better horizons.

That being said, the word “selfie” can bring to mind narcissism and Millennials, who have been criticized fairly or unfairly for being shallow and obsessed with technology. The word is loaded. Right now, I can’t imagine many people I know posting on Twitter, “Go watch the show ‘Selfie’!” In my opinion, it is a sufferer of Crappy Name Syndrome. Granted, the word is very much representative of the program’s content (unlike “Cougar Town”), but show me a significant amount of people unfazed by the name and I’ll show myself out.

I don’t know what the future of “Selfie” may hold. It may be picked up by another network–who knows? All I know is that if “Selfie” is enjoyable as people say it is and it sparks interesting, un-self-serving conversations about what it means to live in the digital age, I wish it all the luck in the world.

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