The success of "The Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story" might have led people to believe "The River" would be a major success on ABC. Reports point to Netflix as being in discussions with the network to run new episodes exclusively online, which would cause the show to be canceled on TV. From the first previews that were released, it was obvious that this show was doomed for multiple reasons.
As someone who has studied the horror industry for many years, I was able to pick up on a trend in the late months of 2010 and early part of 2011: A major influx of video-on-demand and direct-to-DVD movies being introduced in the found footage formats. At the same time, many of the horror movies in the theater were using the same format to cash in on the success of "Paranormal Activity" and "Cloverfield."
The End Before the Beginning
By the summer of 2011, the theater numbers for found-footage movies were dwindling, and the purchases of the direct-to-DVD movies in the format had plummeted, as well. By the beginning of this year, the market was all but DOA. Since "The River" was using the found-footage format, it was clear that it was a poor time to come out with a TV show in the format at the end of the product lifecycle for the filming style. The show was at least semi-doomed from the start.
The Shock Value
The previews for "The Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story" always have scary shots, but they do not have moments where something is jumping out. The previews for "The River" always included shock value moments. This would automatically turn off many viewers as people like the occasional jump but do not want to watch something dominated by the horror trick. When the shock tool is constantly used in the previews, people gain the impression that this is a basis for the show and are not interested in tuning in.
Many TV fans surely thought that "The River" looked like "Anaconda" and 100 other movies shot in the middle of the Amazon or other jungle area. People can relate to an old farm as on "The Walking Dead" or an old house like on "American Horror Story." Few have been to the Amazon and have only seen scenes about the area in movies. The detachment causes for some people to become distanced while the idea of seeing the same type of environment you could not relate to before would distance others.
Chances are good that "The River" will drift off of TV very soon due to cancellation. The show was doomed from the start for entering the market with a directorial format on the way out. They tried to push a shock factor in an environment rarely successful.
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