It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

TV Time with Spatch

Let me ask a question
You can make a guess:
Who holds the keys to your happiness?

Is your life up to you
Or does Fate have it planned?
Don't think too much, just do it
Do it grand
Another forgotten television show gets picked up in my head and tossed around a bit. Grand debuted on NBC in early 1990, a Carsey-Werner production, and at that point in time these folks could do no wrong. They had had the television hit of the 1980s (The Cosby Show) on NBC, and they were the only team that could come up with the show to beat Cosby (ABC's Roseanne) so it's no surprise that Grand's brilliant pedigree ("From the producers of The Cosby Show and Roseanne!") was crowed about at every opportunity. But, of course, it was nothing like Cosby or Roseanne. If anything, I'd say what it really wanted to be was the 90s answer to Soap (which, by the way, just had its first season released on DVD! Hot diggity damn. If I were the type who had a wishlist, you can be damn sure that'd be right up on top.)

Grand was a story of "8 or 9" people in Grand, Pennsylvania, a town whose claim to fame was making pianos. Bonnie Hunt and Michael McKean played the Smithsons, rich newcomers to Grand who alternately worked/were fired from the piano factory. Pamela Reed was Janice, a former homecoming queen, now living in a trailer with her daughter and working as a housekeeper for the Smithsons. The story arcs were very Soap-like in preposterousness (Janice's estranged husband stepped out for a pack of cigarettes and wasn't seen for three years) and the supporting cast was appropriately offbeat and amusing. I really don't remember every single detail about the storylines, but I do remember this:
Some are born to make it
Everything they touch turns gold
Others try to fake it
But their luck is always cold

See, we're all different drummers
Playing in the same big band
And if you're gonna play it
Play it grand
The theme song kicked ass. It's not very often you hear a theme song telling you not to think too much (sup MST3K) and it's not often you get a song that has only a grand piano for accompaniment. The harmonies are also very nicely done, the melody is pretty and you'll probably recognize the male lead singer from any number of dynamic 80s jingles or commercials. (The theme has quite the dynamic oomph to it as well.)

The thing is, Grand had its ensemble cast singing the theme during the opening credits. Only they were lip-synching, and it was pretty obvious they were lip-synching, but that was the point. It removed the characters from the confines of the show, took them out of that world and out of character, pressed 'em up against the fourth wall and made them sing. It was very theatrical and very intriguing. The entire show just refused to take anything, including itself, seriously, but was not smarmy or precious about it. It was really well done.

The only problem was that the show wasn't grabbing the immediate scads of ratings that NBC had hoped it would. As is all too often the case with short-sighted television executives, the network wanted Cosby ratings from the get-go, and they weren't getting them. Maybe they even believed the show "too quirky", "too weird", and I honestly bet they did, because there wasn't anything really like Grand at that time. So even with critical acclaim and an innovative approach to the sitcom genre, Grand was cancelled in the spring of 1990. The writers, naturally, wrote a completely insane "cliffhanger" for the finale involving a tornado and other disasters, left nothing resolved, and bade farewell to the show. This ending was second only to Sledge Hammer! in terms of setting up a cliffhanger that seemed impossible to resolve in the next season simply because they knew there wasn't going to be a next season. (Sledge Hammer ended, you may recall, with Hammer accidentally detonating a nuclear bomb in the middle of the city. You really can't get any more nihilistically final than that.)

But over the summer of 1990, this little midseason replacement called Twin Peaks wowed 'em like they'd never been wowed before. ABC had itself a humongoid bona-fide hit on its hands, as you may recall, with the entire country going batshit Peaks-crazy trying to solve Laura Palmer's murder along with good ol' Agent Cooper. (Of course, the series spun into the ground during the second season so when the killer was revealed, only the die-hard fans really cared at that point, but the first season, whoo, what a doozy.) It doesn't seem so hard to suppose that when NBC saw that "sure, quirky can work", they immediately kicked themselves for cancelling their own quirky show. Or maybe they didn't. I can't remember a major public outcry over the show's cancellation, but maybe there was one. Maybe there was just enough to influence NBC to say "Well, let's renew it anyway."

So they renewed Grand, letting the show return to resolve its preposterous cliffhanger (and, as some have very proudly pointed out, without a "it was all a dream" cop out.) Even with its second chance the show faltered (online reviews of the episodes suggest the writing quality was not as good as it was in the first season, relying more on sitcom standards and less on original situations) and so Grand was unceremoniously cancelled in December of 1990. Again, the show gave its characters a cliffhanger involving people trapped in a well and off they went. (However, TVTome actually says a final episode "The End of the World, As We Know It" was shot but never aired, and we can only guess as to the sendoff the characters received there.) And that was the end of Grand.

So what did we learn from all this? Not much, really, but it was a shame to see such a good idea and good television go to waste by boneheaded decisions from television executives. If they'd given Grand a fighting chance in the first season, I'm pretty sure the show would've soldiered on. Getting cancelled between seasons can only take the wind out of your sails (it's also possible, though I haven't done too much research, that some of the writers went on to other jobs in that interim between cancellation and cancellation-cancellation.) On the other hand, if the show hadn't been brought back that summer, we probably would have forgotten it all the more. It's very rare a show gets a second chance at life, and it was a shame that Grand's chance was squandered. So it goes.

Though if it ever gets picked up on Trio, I need to owe some people some major taping favors.

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