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"Once bitten, twice shy," as they say, and it's probably twice as true for a show kinda sorta about vampires. Mark-Paul Gosselaar is now starring as Brad Wolgast on The Passage, Fox's truly impressive new dystopian series based on the novels by Justin Cronin. Gosselaar is clearly excited to be on the show, but he's also wary after feeling this same excitement for another show you may or may not remember -- Pitch. He thought he had it made with that Fox series, and his heart was broken when it was cancelled after one season. Could it happen again? That's his fear, as he explained.
Part of me thought, "Well, this is another script that I read and really fell in love with it and the character. Liz Heldens did an amazing job adapting the book. It's a character-driven show with this orbiting genre vampire story orbiting around it. But because of what happened to Pitch, could the same thing happen to this show?" You just don't know because what we're trying to do is so hard in broadcast.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar told Collider he sees similarities between Pitch and The Passage, and that understandably has him worried that The Passage could also be a one-and-done show if fans don't turn out. The first episode aired last Monday, January 14 and had 5.23 million viewers and a 1.3 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo. Pitch -- which also premiered in a 9 p.m. timeslot, although on a Thursday -- started with 4.23 million viewers and a 1.1 rating.
So The Passage is already off to a slightly better start than Pitch, but it's also a slow-burn mystery show. Some fans may be tempted to binge all the episodes at once. But Mark-Paul Gosselaar knows they need to keep people watching Monday nights for the duration if they want to get those ratings and live on for another season.
We need people to sit down on the night it airs and I, for one, am not someone that can do that, all the time. I tend to stream everything that I watch, so I understand how hard it is for broadcast television to survive in this environment. The only thing that I can say is that we try to make the best possible product, and I'm so super proud of this product, much like I was with Pitch. I think that this has all of the same qualities, in terms of a show that will hopefully find an audience, because there are so many moving pieces that will attract every type of viewer.
As Mark-Paul Gosselaar explained, his Pitch experience was a double-edged sword. He really thought the unique and promising Major League Baseball show had everything it took to be a long-lasting series. And then -- poof -- it was gone.
With the pedigree behind [Pitch], the story we were telling and the character that I was playing, I thought for sure that I could hang my hat on it and retire because it was just so good. Dan Fogelman had This is Us, and I was thinking, "Okay, I'm gonna be very comfortable here, for the next six years." Then, for it to not find an audience was crushing. That was the part that really fucked me up. At that point, you have all of these great cards in front of you, and for it not to be a success, that just messed me up. I thought, "What does a project need for it to work?"
Dan Fogelman, who created Pitch, has a hit with This Is Us, but sometimes you swing and you miss. It may be especially frustrating for Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who shot to fame on the fun but clearly less ambitious sitcom Saved by the Bell, which ran from 1989 to 1993. He said he doesn't even remember much about making Saved by the Bell, but it was clearly a huge hit. Will The Passage be able to get that kind of success?
Fox is not shy about cutting shows that don't measure up in the ratings. Last year it suffered the wrath of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Lucifer fans -- never mind fans of my beloved The Exorcist. The first two shows were picked up by other outlets, at least, so it's possible that in the worst-case scenario that The Passage doesn't find an audience on Fox, it could be picked up by, say, Netflix.
For now, The Passage airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox as one of the many midseason 2019 shows worth watching.