By Wayne Harada
The worrisome performance of CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0,” in its third-season launch last Monday (Sept. 24) night, is a wake-up call for all concerned: the producers, the writers, the actors, even the audience.
“Five-0,” which had been averaging 12 million viewers a week (according to exec producer Peter Lenkov), dropped to 8.06 million — as low as it’s ever gotten — slipping it third place in the 9 p.m. (10 p.m. Mainland) slot. ABC’s “Castle” was No. 1 with a solid 10.45 million and NBC’s promising newbie “Revolution” with 9.45 million, was No. 2 with a very enviable debut. (The TV ratings figures have been readjusted from preliminary reports).
The HF0 fanship has been cheering and supporting the reboot, with aloha to spare at Sunset on the Beach, where the CBS series has previewed the first episode for three consecutive years.
Now it’s time to pause the fawning and reflect on the reality: what happened? The viewership for H50 was disappointing, the pits. Did the Sunset crowd, which saw the Monday episode, skip it in prime time?
The show’s slippage could be based on a couple of factors: folks who regularly support “Castle” and “Five-0” did some test-driving with “Revolution” a highly regarded newcomer with its theme of an America without electrical power and a lawlessness state; curiosity in “Castle’s” developing love relationship between its two leads in teaser ads resulted in loyalty buzz and steadfast support; the addition of yet another H50 character — Mama Doris McGarrett — in a community that’s becoming increasing cluttered with new folks who don’t necessarily provide chemistry or longevity might have been raised the profile of H50 a skosh.
In the past, we’ve seen Papa McG and sister McG. Familial fatigue, perhaps?
Since “Five-0” is filmed in Honolulu, we all take ownership and pride when it does well; we support it, even when it stumbles; we hurt, if it begins to wobble and wither; we worship its stars, who have become part-time residents; we know the series helps improve our see-sawing economy and community. Mostly, we’re grateful they’re all here. Win-win for everyone, right?
But there’s a lot at stake. H50 needs a quick-fix Plan B to reverse the low trending. Sure, the opening show may be an exception rather than the rule. The last one out could eventually cross the finish line first.
But face it: the competitors include appealing lead-in reality shows; and “Revolution” seems to tout surprises and the unexpected, following “The Voice.” “Castle” seems rooted in the traditional procedural (if it’s not broken, don’t fix it), foxtrotting in after “Dancing With the Stars.” H50 continues to experiment with new characters, extracted from a fabricated past, its lead-in shows are sitcoms "2 Broke Girls" and "Mike and Molly."
But there’s no reason why “Five-0” can’t rebound and recapture its sizzle.
With McGarrett and company filming since July, perhaps as many as eight or nine shows already are in the can.
Still, a midway checklist might work: Declutter by eliminating or certainly reducing excessive background character details; conceive story lines that grip and attract established and new audiences; downplay or freeze story arcs that impede efficient week-to-week adventures; prioritize character development only to add relevant specifics.
This season, we’re expecting McGarrett to get warm and cozy with a love interest from the past; Chin alarmingly lost his wife, introduced last season via a wedding; Kono seems to be getting close and personal with a main squeeze we’ve already seen; Danno retains feelings about his ex who is the mother of his beloved daughter. With these plot devices, the imbalanced focus seems to be on personal lives rather than solving and fighting crime.
We’ve already seen William Baldwin in a return cameo. Ed Asner recurs in this Monday’s (Oct. 1) episode. Does that mean Jimmy Buffett might do a hana hou?
And what’s up with Wo Fat? He flits in and out, providing some menace but he’s still not the oily snake of a villain he should be. And whoa, Mama McG factors in the Wo Fat complexity? And Kamekona? A big guy with a big heart, yes, but perhaps his shrimp truck shtick has run out of fuel.
And: Enough of the silly Shelburne issue. Solve it in one more go-round. Then bury it. And move on.
The carguments between McGarrett and Danno — they hook ‘em, Danno — are snappy snits and snarls that should continue. And happily, McG looks McGreat — the hiatus obviously was invigorating. Alex O'Loughlin's personal life (a girlfriend, a baby due in a month, his son in school here) means blissful times off camera.
So why can’t this energy and manner infiltrate and transcend into the weekly watch?
With “Five-0” destined to be picked up by TNT (summer 2014, at $2 million-plus per episode) for USA-type cable syndication enjoyed by “NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” and the “Law and Order” franchise, the show won’t be immediately canceled; however, the commitment needs a stable of episodes to make the association profitable for a truly long shelf life.
So: “Five-0” vitally needs new blood, new vigor, new excitement. Focus on the main four, establish scripts with credibility and inventiveness.
It’s a matter of the three Rs: rethink, recoil, rebound.