I've started watching "Wonderfalls" on DVD. It's marvelous.

You could always Wikipedia it if you wanted, but I'll give you a brief history of the show: it was a quirky drama/comedy (I've sworn off the word "dramedy," I suggest you do the same) that premiered in 2004 to solid critical acclaim and almost no viewership. The "Save Our Show" campaign started the night the pilot aired, which is awfully early even in these treacherous days of viewer-starved networks. The show made it through its 13-episode run but wasn't picked up again, which is a shame because it's one of the best and most original shows I've ever seen. But here's the thing:

I remember when the show came out. I remember seeing the promos airing, pitching the show to the public, trying to pique our interest. and I distinctly remember thinking "that show looks horrible! Who would want to watch that? That show is going to get canceled so quickly!" I even remember being glad when I heard that it was getting canceled, thinking "good riddance." And this is without ever watching any part of any episode of the show. That's how bad the promos were.

This got me thinking. If a show this good could look so bad, how is anyone to ever to know if a show is good or not? The only way we discover shows is by these advertisements. The timetable for keeping shows on the air is far too short now - the ballyhooed "Smith" lasted 4 episodes last fall - for word of mouth to spread and get people to watch them. These advertisements are the only methods we have for discovering shows, and yet the networks seem to put such little work into some of them. The big shows get huge, flashy promos played incessantly each episode, smaller shows are lucky to get their promos played at all. I used to work for an executive producer who sent endless memos to the head of the network (out of caution, I promise I won't mention which one), pointing out that while it was rare to see a promo for his show at any point during the week, promos for "CSI: Miami" (alright, that might have given away the network there) played literally every commercial break. They still do, in fact. Turn on CBS right now (I screwed that oath, didn't I?).

The fact is that if a network doesn't know how to sell a show - and with most clever, thinky shows that can't be boiled down to a 8-second spot, they don't have any clue - it doesn't have a chance. NBC knows how to sell "Las Vegas" (shots of dice bouncing on craps table! shots of girls in party dresses grinding on each other! shots of whichever current washed up celebrity is guesting! Roll title graphic!), but not "Studio 60" ("I don't know how to condense six minutes of clever repartee into this ad, boss." "Just put in the last two lines, and we'll add a stinger so it sounds like a punchline. We've got to keep moving on this so we can focus on the 3-D effects for the 'Deal or No Deal' spot.")

In the past few years, we've lost "Firefly," "Arrested Development," and "Freaks and Geeks" without ever noticing what we'd lost until too late, because the shows never manged to find the audience they needed - and deserved. In a few months, we'll probably lose "30 Rock" and "Friday Night Lights" for the same reason (though props to NBC for sticking with 'em this long). I just wish we could find a way to alleviate the problem. Because until further notice, we've placed all our entertainment choices in the hands of the advertisers. And that's just not right.