Why did 'Ben and Kate' fail to attract viewers?

Yahoo Contributor Network

For those who loved the freshman FOX comedy "Ben and Kate," news of its cancellation was a disappointment, if perhaps not a surprise. As the Hollywood Reporter noted, the show had suffered from weak ratings from the start, along with many other Tuesday-night comedies.

Back in October 2012, TV By the Numbers predicted "Ben and Kate" was likely to be canceled because of its low 1.2 rating among 18- to 49-year-olds for the Oct. 16 episode. The question is, why did a show that received good critical reviews fail to appeal to the key demographic?

Humor too subtle

While fans of the show praised it for its conversational dialogue, "Ben and Kate's" reliance on situational humor over punchlines may have cost it viewers. Today's top sitcoms -- such as "The Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family," and "How I Met Your Mother" -- simply have more jokes, while "Ben and Kate" often relied on the ridiculousness of a situation striking people as funny. The characters who got the most laughs, Lucy Punch's B.J. and Echo Kellum's Tommy, were secondary characters who were often relegated to the background. Likewise, the bar owner, played by comedy veteran Rob Corddry, rarely got a chance to show off his comic chops.

Difficult to categorize

Part family sitcom, part single-friends comedy, the show needed to find a balance between the two. Dakota Johnson played Kate, the single mom of little Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), and her efforts to make it as a single mom, with the help of her daydreaming brother, was the expressed focus of the show. Yet, Kate and Maddie had less on-screen chemistry than Maddie and B.J., whose off-kilter advice to the young girl -- such as helping the elementary schooler apply makeup -- provided some of the few truly unpredictable moments.

Formulaic plots

While viewers do like to feel comfortable with characters and be able to predict their actions to some degree, the plots of "Ben and Kate" had begun to seem increasingly formulaic. Each episode began a cold open that showed the titular brother and sister interacting in a funny way. These were often the strongest moments of the show, as the chemistry between Johnson and Nat Fallon (who played Ben) was extremely believable. Her exasperation at his pie-in-the-sky plans, and his well-meaning but often misguided protectiveness felt like the interactions of real siblings. But then, the plot typically took the siblings in different directions, with Kate focusing more and more often on her love life, while Ben balanced babysitting with his get-rich-quick schemes.

Although there were typically a few moments where they would cross paths, they did not have a lengthier scene together until the end of the episode, when they would talk about what they had learned that week. Perhaps using that relationship more effectively would have helped.

Whatever the reason, the show failed to attract a viewership, but the disappointed fans don't have to say goodbye just yet. The network is reportedly bringing the show back in reruns as a late-night Saturday series, although there are no reported plans to air three episodes that have already been shot but not broadcast.

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