It doesn't take the astute mind of a TV critic to see similarities in this seasons two new serial killer dramas, namely Fox's The Following and The CW's Cult. Of course, there are bound to be many differences, the former focussing on an FBI investigation while the latter uses an amateur detective and show-within-a-show conceit, and two projects that share a strong resemblance coming out at the same time is also not a rare occurrence. The two kindred series about sadistic yet charismatic killers leading a group of impressionable psychopaths is just another case in a long line of Deep Impact - Armageddon situations where the collective consciousness stirs up competing cultural products that are very much, even too much, alike. Or it's just a culture of unoriginal, uninspired, copycatting. Here are five other awkwardly timed television releases...
The Munsters and The Addams Family
The arrival of the two supernatural households spoofing monster movies and series about the traditional family is one of the early examples of similar shows emerging on TV in the same year. Based on Charles Addams' cartoons originally published in The New Yorker in the late 1930s, The Addams Family television series hit ABC in 1964 and even though it aired for only two seasons, its legacy, and catchy theme song, lasted much longer. Though it's lacking the existing source material, The Munsters first aired on CBS in the fall of '64 and used the monster genre to satirize typical family series that dominated network television. Coincidentally, or not, The Munsters only stayed on the air for the same two seasons as Addams, making the connection even more eerie. Okay, not really eerie but you can see why I went there.
ER and Chicago Hope
It's pretty standard for two medical dramas to emerge in the same year, something that probably has occurred every season since these two successes debuted, but it's a bit more unusual when you consider that both ER and Chicago Hope are set in Chicago hospitals. ER, created by Michael Jurassic Park Crichton and produced by Amblin Entertainment, premiered on NBC in the fall of 1994 and followed a huge (evolving) ensemble working in the fictional County General Hospital emergency room. Running for 15 years and winning multiple awards, the NBC medical drama trounced its still successful competitor Chicago Hope. Also airing in September, 1994, the CBS show created by David E. Kelley was similarly set in a fictional hospital but dealt with more areas than just 'emerge' and only lasted six seasons. It's hard to compete with the Clooney.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock
Like the last entry, I can remember an actual hubbub surrounding the release of these two shows and how some expected the similar settings of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock would turn people off. Unlike the last entry, the pundits were right and only one of the NBC series, despite being different genres, one an hour long dramedy and the other a half-hour all out comedy, survived past one season. To this day, including HBO's critically panned The Newsroom, 60 is the only Aaron Sorkin television series to not see a renewal, running from September 2006 to June '07. The dramatic telling of the behind the scenes tales of a Saturday Night Live sketch comedy show didn't succeed but Tina Fey's funny take on 30 Rock, airing a month after its 'competition' (October '06), certainly had its share and lasted for seven seasons. Maybe it's because she actually worked there? At least Sorkin was a good sport.
The Playboy Club and Pan Am
At first glance it might be a bit of a stretch lumping these two shows together, one being about the, uh, seedy side of the titular Playboy Club while the other follows female flight attendants full of secrets who fly for Pan Am, but the way the pair both jumped on the trendy 1960s setting makes them similar enough in my book. As does their almost matching premiere dates, short life spans and female-led ensembles. The Playboy Club debuted on NBC in September 2011 and had only three episodes make it to air before the Peacock pulled the plug, making it the first show of the season to receive a pink slip. Pan Am didn't fair too much better managing to get 14 installments on ABC until it suffered the same fate as its counterpart. Of course, the cancellations didn't stop the period piece trend with Magic City, Vegas and more popping up the following season.
Once Upon a Time and Grimm
The first thing that should be said about these similar series is... Bill Willingham's "Fables." Okay. Now that proper credit is out of the way, let's talk about the almost simultaneous emergence of Once Upon a Time and Grimm, two shows that use fairy tales bleeding into the real world as the main conceit. ABC's OUAT premiered on October 23, 2011, a whole five days before Grimm, and uses popular fairy tale characters to tell a more traditional Disney-ish fantasy, while the latter folds in famous fables as part of a darker police procedural. Both of the dramas have achieved some success and second season renewals so there is certainly hope for the survival of TV series no matter how similar they seem. We'll have to wait and see what happens with The Following and Cult but something tells me The CW serial killer drama might struggle simply by being second out of the gate. And lacking the star power of the Bacon.
Cult premieres tonight with "You're Next" at 9.00 p.m. ET on The CW. Or watch the first episode here.
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