Saying Goodbye to 24 and The Hills

News broke recently that both 24 and The Hills are now in the midst of their final seasons (24’s final season is currently airing, while MTV will debut the final season of The Hills on April 27th). On the surface, these two shows do not have much in common, but they each hold a soft spot in my heart—at various points in the past, I would have described each of them as “my favorite show on TV”—but I cannot deny that I am now happy to see them go.

24 and The Hills, despite appealing to wildly different audiences and being two completely different types of show, actually have a lot in common. They were both pretty groundbreaking in terms of format and style (24 because of its real-time storytelling and season-long plots, The Hills because it abandoned most reality show crutches, like introducing strangers, artificial settings and plots, the use of confessionals, etc.); they were both breakout hits for the networks that aired them; and even though they have both been on their last legs for a few seasons now, each show’s franchise will continue to live on beyond its own demise (24 is apparently looking into a Jack Bauer movie; MTV still plans to air The Audrina Show); and both shows initially underestimated how important their main character was.

I was a fan of 24 from the beginning, before Jack Bauer became a cultural phenomenon. The first two seasons were incredibly innovative and original in terms of how the story was told and how well mapped-out the overall plot seemed. By the third season, though, it was clear that the show was repeating itself and relying on the unique structure as a crutch to reuse the same stories. Season Four, when the show’s popularity increased as the show moved to a January-through-May run that was more conducive to its fast-paced stories, was the point when I gave up on the show. It was clear at that point that 24’s success was far more dependent on getting Kiefer Sutherland to do badass things* and making things explode than it was on any realistic or original storytelling. The show still thrived in the ratings for a few years after I gave up on it, but the action-hero Jack Bauer became pretty much the only reason people were watching.

*There was actually a time when a common opinion about 24 was that Sutherland would need to be replaced—not because of any inadequacies of Sutherland, but just because the show was more about the format than any character or actor. Sutherland even said in early interviews that he would like to pass the franchise off to a younger actor eventually. Eventually, though, the idea of having 24 without Jack Bauer would seem totally ludicrous.

Similarly, The Hills was a show that relied on its main character—Lauren Conrad—more than some people realized. A lot of people, both fans and critics of the show, dismissed Conrad: Fans found her boring or unlikable, while critics thought that the show was just about vapid, materialistic, dumb blondes, and hence figured that Conrad was nothing more than a suitable stand-in for an archetype. When Conrad left the show, however, and was replaced by her demographic equivalent, the show’s ratings dropped by 30%. As some notable and brilliant prognosticators pointed out back in June, Conrad—as a sympathetic and tranquil center to the show—was more important than people realized.

Indeed, even I stopped watching after Conrad left, not out of any love of LC, but mainly because replacing Conrad with Kristin Cavallari upset the real/fake balance of the show. Her inclusion was so obviously forced and artificial that it crossed the fine line separating a reality that is manipulated from one that is faked.

So even though a past me would have been devastated by the news that 24 and The Hills would be no more, the truth is that I’m happy to see them go. Neither show bears much resemblance now to the show I liked so much initially, so it’s not that hard to say goodbye.

And at least we still have the Pratt Family. Thank God for that.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Elizabeth Schneider on March 31, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    i disagree with the idea that the 30% decrease in viewership was due to any inherent LC-ness. I think the fact that the main character left was obviously the reason, but the result would’ve been the same if the main character was someone else. Personally, i think it was probably just a general realization that if LC was so easily replaced as the center of the show, maybe people ought to stop being so invested in the fake reality that is the hills.

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on March 31, 2010 at 7:23 PM

      I think you’re simultaneously giving The Hills fans too much and not enough credit. Too much because I don’t think most of them are self-aware and reasonable enough to realize that “if LC was so easily replaced as the center of the show, maybe people ought to stop being so invested in the fake reality.” Not enough because I do think there was something likable about LC. I’m not saying she was uniquely suited for the role or the only one who could have done it, but she did seem to have a low-key, reserved attitude about being on TV, instead of quite obviously and quite consciously playing into the shows’ storylines, like pretty much everyone else on the show, especially Kristin.

      Reply

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