The Ex List is ex-tinct. CBS has pulled the plug on its estrogen-rage drama less than a month after its debut. That's not a record for CBS -- I'd guess last season's bizarre musical drama Viva Laughlin!, dumped after two episodes, probably has the title as the most-quickly canceled CBS show of all time -- but it's still fast for a network that usually tries to avoid having an itchy trigger finger. The CBS research department must have had some pretty ugly-looking data on The Ex List.
The Ex List was an American adaptation of an Israeli show, part of an unprecedented wave of imports in the wake of the Hollywood writers' strike that wrecked the television development season earlier this year. Of the 12 new scripted series this fall on the Big Four networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox), five were adapted from foreign shows: CBS' Worst Week (Great Britain), NBC's Kath & Kim (Australia), ABC's Life On Mars (Great Britain), CBS' Eleventh Hour (Great Britain) and The Ex List. Guess what? They're all ratings flops. It turns out that what's a hit overseas won't necessarily be a hit here (and, no doubt, vice-versa).
Network executives pronounce themselves perplexed by this, but it's really not all that complicated. Different countries and different cultures respond to different things. The class humor that drives Kath & Kim is a television staple in England and Australia, but American audiences have never gone for it. Worst Week, an entire sitcom built around a single disastrous week in the life of a couple, may work in Great Britain, where a television season only lasts five or six episodes, but it's just nuts to think you can stretch it out from October through May here. Foreign outsourcing may work for some American industries, but this fall's results show pretty clearly that television isn't one of them.