Joan of Arcadia was an awesome show that was plagued by a fatal flaw. That flaw is in fact what the entire show was based on though you might not even know it. On the surface the show was about Joan and how god talked to her. Yet if you watched Barbara Hall talk about the show on the DVD you quickly learned something slightly different.
Barbara explains that the show is about Joan, the metaphysical warrior, as well as her father the cop, as the physical warrior. Barbara really wanted to play the two side off each other and form a balance of the world of god that you can’t fully grasp and the world of being a cop.
This view of the show puts more focus on the contrast of Joan and her father then on the fact that Joan talks to God. This is not necessarily bad but this was not what any publicity or even the opening credits focused on.
When ever a show gets canceled there is usually a fairly clear reason why. Shows get pulled because they are not getting the viewership they wanted. Who was Joan of Arcadia target audience? 50% of the shows focus was Joan and her friends. The other 50% was a about the Father who was a cop and his trials at work.
This 50/50 split seems to have been the problem. If you liked the kids the best then you did not care about the parents and if you liked the parents you most likely did not want to watch a teen drama.
Barbara was so focused on the contrast between the two that she did not see the fact that she was spreading her audience too thin. Not to mention that advertisers like to know who they are advertising too. An audience that was 50% adults and 50% teens is not an effective way to market to either. At the end of the day if a show can’t bring home the bread it’s going to get canceled.
I might sound a bit hard on Barbara but that’s only because I love the show so much. While it was flawed on such a basic level it did everything else right. The writing was snappy and very emotional. While I did not enjoy the parent story lines they were still well written and I would have enjoyed them more as a separate show instead on woven in to the same show.
The amount of character development she managed to pack in to thirty minutes (With the other half taken by the parents) for about 8 different characters was amazing. Yet there was still so much that could have been done. Friedman was neglected and kept as a flat character until the second season where he only started to shine. Even Joan’s brothers were left fairly flat until later in the first season.
A couple years back in college I ripped Memento, a move sequenced in reverse, and re-sequenced it in chronological order. I keep talking about trying the same thing with Joan of Arcadia and cutting out most of the parent scenes. I’m sure it would be extremely rough but it would be closer to a show that would have actually grabbed their target audience and kept them for season after season.