NBC, the same network that shared so much brilliance in its show "Lovers"…I mean "Friends"…that it kept it on the schedule forever and a day has, as of April 23, not decided firmly whether "Awake" has a future. Keep in mind that this is the same network so desperate to climb out of the ratings toilet and reattain its former Nielsen glory that it actually thought bringing back Jay Leno to "The Tonight Show" would be a great idea after their great idea to put him in primetime every night of the week.
Here's the lesson that NBC needs to learn: They need Jason Isaacs more than Jason Isaacs needs them.
Yes, true, "Awake" is a revolutionary show that attempts to do what so few shows on NBC's schedule over the past 15 years or so has failed to attempt: intellectually challenge viewers. "Awake" is ostensibly about a police detective involved in a car accident that produces one reality in which his wife dies and his son lives and another in which the exact opposite occurred. I say ostensibly because nothing is absolutely certain. For instance, my theory -- or perhaps hope -- is that ultimately fans find out that the two different realities actually are the product of the doctor's shrink whose own two personalities depicted in the opposing realities are actually just a representation of a schizophrenic psychiatrist.
NBC's last attempt to infuse this kind of intelligence into one of its dramas occurred way back in the 1980s with "St. Elsewhere." The final episode of that series remains one of the most controversial in TV history when it is revealed that … well, I don't want to give it away. "Awake" starts off with the kind of premise that "St. Elsewhere" ended with. "St. Elsewhere" never had tremendous ratings success, and chances are it would have been even less popular had its controversial concept been telegraphed from the beginning.
The difficulty in maintaining an elevated level of integrity in a show like "Awake" may outweigh the ability to continually remain fascinating to its audience without devolving into the kind of red herrings and rabbit holes that plagued "Lost." Or, perhaps, NBC's team is just so aware of the intellectual shortcomings of the shows it has based its audience on over the last decade and a half that they know the difficulty in reaching an audience that is cognitively advanced enough to follow "Awake."
Regardless of how long NBC is willing to invest in the confidence it gave "Awake" through its decision to place it on its schedule, one thing is for sure: Whether "Awake" disappears after a shortened debut season or manages to draw the kind of high-spending/low-rating demographics that kept "St. Elsewhere" on the air, Jason Isaacs need lose no sleep. A long, fecund career is pretty much guaranteed this remarkably versatile actor capable of going from voice work on "Avatar: The Last Airbender" to the original British miniseries version of the brilliant journalism story "State of Play."
For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo! Voices' first Writer of the Year, check out: