4. The River
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Rule #4: There is such thing as a mercy killing.
You know what's hard to pull off? An ongoing horror series on broadcast television. That's because the two things you have to have to make horror effective are the threat of death and atmosphere. A television series, by nature, will need to interrupt your carefully modulated tone with commercials, and there's only so much gore you can put on a major network, to say nothing of having to regularly replace cast members when they're killed off just so you can prove you're not kidding about the whole threat-of-death thing. On the surface, The River looked like an ideal solution to both of these problems. Oren Peli's debut film Paranormal Activity was filmed on a shoestring with a cheap digital camera, and it didn't just scare the hell out of audiences, but it became one of the most profitable films in history. And it was rated PG-13, because the spooky premise made gore unnecessary. Plus, it had Stephen Spielberg behind it. What could go wrong?
Well, with The River, quite a bit, actually. To start with, turns out the "found footage" thing—you know, where the entire movie is made of static shots from hidden cameras the filmmakers stumbled across—gets really, really old over the course of a full TV show, and even though it helps out with verisimilitude, there's only so far you can push clumsy writing. The acting was not always up to snuff, either. "I know you're looking for more than just magic out here—what is it?" begs one of the characters. "Tell me!" Let me help: He's looking for a cue card.
None of this is to say that The River wasn't worth trying, merely that ABC was right: It's not worth continuing to try. For instance, would you green-light a show by X-Files mastermind Chris Carter and Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan? You sure would, and you'd end up with The Lone Gunmen, one of the worst sci-fi shows ever euthanized. You can play the if-I-were-in-charge game all you want, but eventually everyone's going to pick a few rotten eggs.