‘The Vampire Diaries’ vs. ‘The Originals’: Thanksgiving Smack-down!

TVD 4

With the CW just announcing that “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” will be moving to Fridays in late January, now seemed like a good time to reevaluate the two shows and determine what, if anything, can be done to cure what ails them. As some of you probably know, a show moving to Friday nights is rarely a good thing, and typically a sign that a show is on its way out.

Granted, this is the CW we’re talking about, and unlike the “Big Four”- ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX- they don’t have to have quite the ratings of those top networks, but still, shows are certainly to be expected to do as well, if not better than, the ratings of a decently-successful basic cable show, at the very least.

Just to put things into perspective, heading out of the last season, “The Flash” was the CW’s highest-rated show, clocking in at #90 on the coveted 18-49 demo charts with a mere 1.7 rating. Comparatively, the highest-rated original show is FOX’s “Empire” at a whopping 7.1 rating of viewers, with CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” a distant runner-up at 5.6. Meanwhile, “Flash” ranks alongside shows like “Forever” and “Red Band Society” and just above “Backstrom” and “Constantine,” all of which were cancelled for “low” ratings. (Source: Deadline Hollywood)

In other words, CW shows have a much lower bar to achieve than even the shows that don’t make it on the major networks, and even by those standards, “TVD” and “Originals” are faltering. “TVD” averaged 1.1 million viewers last season (#127th place), while “Originals” only clocked in at 0.9 (#147th place). The recently-cancelled “America’s Top Model,” also on the CW, was at #164, with an 0.6 rating, comparatively.

Here’s where the problem truly arises. The season 7 premiere of “TVD” was, in fact, the same as that latter show’s ratings, which is to say, a 0.6 rating, or roughly 1.37 million viewers. Season 6 had 1.8 in comparison (an 0.9), with the finale- aka Nina Dobrev’s final bow on the show- 1.45 million (an 0.7). That’s down approximately 33%, with “Originals” down to a 0.4, or down 43%.

Granted, none of this takes into account DVR or online viewing, which we all know accounts for a significant portion of viewers these days, particularly in regards to the younger demos out there, who tend to watch stuff on their own schedules, rather than live. Certain networks, particularly FOX, are aiming to do something about that, but in the meantime, Nielsen ratings remain the primary signifier of a show’s overall success, and neither of these shows is knocking it out of the park, unfortunately.

I'll Wed You in the Golden Summertime

So, what can be done? Well, while it’s true that “The Vampire Diaries” suffered a big loss in terms of losing its main female lead in Nina Dobrev, the truth is, even die-hard viewers and fans will allow that, with the death of her more fun Katherine character, leaving only the comparatively staid Elena still standing, there wasn’t much more for the actress to offer short of miraculously reviving said character- which I wouldn’t have put past the show had Dobrev opted to stay put. In retrospect, she might have just bailed off a sinking ship at just the right time, however.

I think a lot of it has less to do with Dobrev’s departure and more to do with simply iffy plotting and storytelling. If there’s one thing that frustrates viewers, it’s inconsistency, and sad to say, the characters have been wildly inconsistent since as far back as Season 5, at least. That uneven season turned off a lot of viewers, not in the least because it spun off the enormously popular “Originals” characters into their own show at around the same time. (Technically, it was during Season 4 of “TVD,” as a so-called “back-door pilot,” but the show proper began at the same time as Season 5.)

It was undeniably a smart move, as that show started off strong, with quickly-moving storylines, a host of likable characters and a great setting in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Season 5 of “TVD” faltered, by sidelining Bonnie, then Damon and Elena in an “alternate timeline” for much of the season, and introducing the highly annoying Kai and his siblings, which were like lesser, more grating versions of the Mikaelson family. Though Season 5 ended strongly, many wondered if the show could get back on track after that fiasco, and viewers started to leave in droves.

Season 6, thankfully, was far more satisfying, with Bonnie back in the mix, and a seemingly burgeoning relationship between her and Damon fanning the flames of fan ‘shipping, along with one for Stefan and Caroline. It seemed that it was inevitable that the two new couples would get together in earnest by the time Season 7 rolled around…until they didn’t.

I'm Thinking of You All The While The Vampire Diaries

Playing around with viewers’ expectations, and not necessarily in a good way, the show-runner Caroline Dries opted to mix it up with the formula, dashing some viewers’ hopes when she and head honcho Julie Plec promised a back-to-basics return-to-form concentrating on the core characters. Instead of focusing on the aforementioned core characters- Stefan, Damon, Caroline and Bonnie- as Plec implied, the show threw viewers for a loop with a bizarre flash-forward plot that was like “TVD”-meets-“Lost.”

Instead of what viewers hoped for, we got such radical, out-of-nowhere couplings as Caroline and Alaric (!) and Bonnie and Enzo (!!), with Damon apparently sitting out the whole affair- perhaps wisely, in retrospect- by a self-imposed hibernation in a coffin, until such time as Elena could be revived, which is to say, after Bonnie’s death. This is tantamount to flat-out ignoring the seeds sown in the previous season, in favor of shaking things up for no good reason, ignoring longtime viewers’ hopes in the process, which is not a very nice way to treat your core audience.

I mean, why even set up these things if you’re going to ignore them in favor of “shaking things up.” Plec referenced “Game of Thrones” as a source of inspiration, mentioning how that show wasn’t afraid to take out major players and reboot things from an entirely different place. Well, she forgets that “TVD” doesn’t have nearly as many characters as that show, and, for that matter, Dries seems to have forgotten that viewers want to focus on the main ones, in favor of yet another stab at a “Originals”-type family, this time around the so-called “Heretics,” which are nowhere near as interesting as their predecessors.

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES Mommie Dearest

Don’t get me wrong. I know that every show has to have its villains, and I certainly don’t blame them for seeking to replace Kai and company with something else less annoying, and, to be fair, the Heretics are indeed less annoying on the whole. It’s also nice to finally see Lily coming around to mending fences with her sons, after some decidedly irrational behavior as of late. The recent Thanksgiving episode went a long way towards righting some of those wrongs, and course-correcting things to a more feasible direction in terms of that relationship.

However, the problem is, the show has clearly mapped out where its headed long in advance, and many longtime fans don’t particularly care for that direction, especially given what we know so far, and that decidedly off-putting game of couples Musical Chairs that the show is playing. Yes, there is a small contingent of fans who are in favor of this radical reshuffling of the deck in a new direction, but the majority of fans seem to not be thrilled about it overall. (Check out the comments section of this article, after the whole Benzo thing was revealed, for instance.)

Now, you can’t please everyone, and I get that, as a writer and TV/film critic myself. Once shows have been on for a certain amount of time, it’s hard to keep things fresh and wrong steps are going to be made. The thing is, when a show is, if you’ll pardon the pun, this long in the tooth, you have to watch getting TOO radical with things, lest you scare off the core fan-base- and this is a show that lives and dies by its fan-base. (For another example, it will be interesting to see how “Pretty Little Liars” fares, after the enormous backlash that erupted after the big “A” reveal and that show’s own radical move of fast-forwarding five years or so into the future.)

And if I’m being honest, the departure of Nina Dobrev is the least of the show’s worries. As aforementioned, if anything, the Elena character had basically run its course, anyway, and with Katherine gone to boot, it probably wasn’t going to get better for her. If anything, I genuinely feel like a certain weight was lifted off of the show when she left, and I hoped that the show would rebound and get back-to-basics, as Plec said it was going to.

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES

I actually miss the lighter feel of the first few seasons, where the show turned the “Twilight” clichés on their head with great, cutting humor and sarcasm, courtesy of original show-runner and co-creator Kevin Williamson (who, it should be noted, fell prey to the same self-serious issues of his former show with “The Following” and “Stalker,” after a promising start to the former, at least).

Instead, the show got grimmer and grimmer, and the characters got mopier and mopier, and the next thing you know, it was actually headed into “Twilight” territory in earnest, which I can’t imagine any longtime fans would have ever wanted. Interestingly, sister show “The Originals,” recaptured some of that old-school “TVD” magic by setting things in a new venue and mixing it up a little bit, resulting in what seemed like a much-welcome alternative to what “TVD” had become by that point.

I just loved “The Originals” early on, and if this season isn’t quite as solid as the previous two, it’s at least more fun and true to its main characters in the grand scheme of things. Yes, the ongoing attempts to “humanize” Klaus and make him more likable can be exasperating, and I’m very much on the fence about his current pseudo-love interest Aurora, but overall, the family on the whole is just as conniving and nasty ever, and the new recruits (also including Aurora’s brother Tristan and the back-stabbing Lucien) are almost as bad as they are. They are, in other words, formidable opponents.

But the ones on “TVD,” on the other hand? Let’s take a quick look. There’s Lily, who is admittedly getting better developed and more consistent as of late, but who, at first, was maddeningly all over the place and lacked any sort of common sense or sense of loyalty to her “real” family, i.e. Stefan and Damon. And to think they brought her back to SAVE one of her sons! Whoops.

The thing is, she’s actually the best of the bunch. Beyond that, we had the ass-kissing Malcolm, who was summarily dispatched by Damon; the mute Beau, who brings hardly anything to the table; the loner/stoner-dude type Oscar, who also wasn’t around long (though he admittedly had his moments); the constantly brooding Mary and Valerie; and easily the best of the new recruits, Nora, a snarky spitfire that at least isn’t afraid to shake things up a little.

I’ll allow that the Valerie and Stefan back-story is reasonably compelling, and certainly made her character a little more interesting, but that’s about as far as it goes. Compare that to the Mikaelson family as a whole, and well, there’s no comparison, really. “The Originals” blow them out of the water, and then some.

The Originals Ashes to Ashes 11

So, at this point and time, I‘d still say that “The Originals,” despite adopting some of the attitude of the more recent seasons of “TVD,” which is to say, losing some of the great sense of humor it had in previous seasons, is still far superior to TVD” as it currently stands. Unfortunately, with its sister show faltering in the ratings, that means even less people are sticking around for the better of the two shows, which certainly doesn’t bode well for its future.

Obviously, if the CW opts to stick with only one of the two shows, it’s going to go with the higher-rated one, and lose the spin-off, which is too bad, as I think that there’s still fun to be had on “The Originals.” It is what it is, though, and if it does come to pass that “TVD” gets renewed and “The Originals” does not, then they are really going to have to consider doing what they said they were going to do in the first place- assuming that they don’t stick the landing with the current season, which remains to be seen- and that’s get things back to what made the show popular in the first place.

Yes, I realize that’s easier said than done, but here’s a thought: Kevin Williamson’s two shows are no more, so that should free him up more than in recent years. Why not bring him back onboard to right the ship? If anyone can do it, he can. As he proved with “Scream 4,” he can still bring the fun when called upon to do so. Why not let him take a stab at it again? It certainly couldn’t hurt things any more than they’ve already been hurt. Just a thought.

Until then, the future fate of the two shows remains in the balance, and I, for one, think they both deserve better. Any fans out there agree? If so, let me know in the comments below, and by all means, feel free to sound off on which of the two shows is your favorite! Also, let me know what you think could be done to improve the two shows, by all means. I’m open to suggestions- and maybe, just maybe, so are the show-runners! One can only hope…