Sometimes, it's not enough for a TV show to be good. A new series can be phenomenal, but it doesn't get the publicity, it doesn't gain the viewers, something about it just doesn't stick. It can be difficult to know what that something is exactly — there's no magic formula for creating popularity. Part of it, however, comes down to timing.
Take a show like Constantine. It barely made it through one full season, although the casting was phenomenal and every other comic book adaptation on the small screen seems to rake in the views.
Now another comic book adaptation is swaggering into TV town, with an Irish accent and some supernatural goings-on at the center — but I have a feeling this one might take audiences by storm.
Preacher, the new offering from the same network that brings you The Walking Dead, is the darkly funny and unapologetically violent tale of a small-town preacher, an Irish vampire, a hit-woman named Tulip and a literal search for God. Having discovered the existence of an Almighty, these guys are less than thrilled and decide to hunt him down and kick. His. Ass.
It's a phenomenal premise, one that gathered a cult following when it first appeared in comic book form in the '90s. The pilot is a glorious romp that manages to cover some darker emotions, play up our assumptions of small-town life, get extremely bloodied and make us laugh — all in under an hour.
On top of the straight-up phenomenal writing (with the comic book creators Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion involved as well), the casting was clearly inspired. Everything about this is fantastic, but so many other shows were fantastic, too. What sets this one apart? It's that timing thing.
For one thing, this is a comic book adaptation, and the current boom in superhero television has created a climate where any show based on a comic gets an automatic leg up. Preacher will be appearing on all the lists of comic book TV shows that will be mentioned in articles about their current popularity, and will end up getting more attention than many other new shows simply because it started with a comic. It's not undeserving of attention, either. Comic books are big business, and new fans love to read the source material while old fans reread it.
However, this isn't just another comic book adaptation. Unlike yet another superhero show that could be seen as one too many, this is not a series with a Caped Crusader at the center.
There are just enough strange powers to appeal to the fantasy lover in the audience, but not enough to make us wonder what it could possibly do differently than the other 10 or so super series out there already.
Preacher will manage to gain traction for the comic book source material without risking being ignored due to "superhero fatigue."
It's also tapping into a corner of the live-action comic book scene that is increasingly popular: adult-oriented adaptations. The Walking Dead might have been a frontrunner when it came to creating live-action comic books that are most definitely not PG-13, but now it's far from the only one.
On the small screen, most of the shows are still family-friendly, which suits characters like the Flash and Supergirl. But shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones are presenting a darker face to the viewing world and absolutely killing it — pun very much intended!
On the big screen, Deadpool broke record after record with its ultraviolence and black humor, and Kingsman: The Secret Service became a surprise smash hit. Now studios are giving credence to the idea of R-rated comic book movies and adaptations for adults — a particular niche where Preacher fits in nicely.
On top of all that, AMC has chosen the best time to launch its new show — not to mention flying in the face of TV tradition. In the past, most major new shows would appear on the air in the fall — a throwback to days when family TV habits were limited by technology.
Now, those factors have all but disappeared. Fans no longer have to be in front of the television when a show is airing; they can watch it whenever they wish. Still, most shows stick to the traditional schedules, which means that those willing to be a little different can reap the rewards.
And Preacher is nothing if not different.
By launching in May, Preacher takes full advantage of all the free time that devoted TV watchers have in the summer; starting in the off-season means less competition. Come spring, viewership shrinks from one or more shows a night to one or two a week, and viewers are no longer weighing whether a new show looks good enough to squeeze in somewhere. Instead, they actively seek out new shows to bridge the gap over the summer months.
Meanwhile, Preacher caters to creatures of habit as well. We can assume it will be taking the Sunday-night slot previously filled by The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead; fans of those two shows will be able to get their usual Sunday-night fix — only without the zombies.
This is a show that promises to tap into the desire for adult comic book adaptations and violent humor, without retreading familiar ground. It takes joy in the elements of fantasy that make superhero shows so popular, but is grounded in small-town life. And it arrives at a time when people are looking for something new to watch, missing their AMC bloody Sundays and are already geared up for violence thanks to the return of Game of Thrones.
In short, if Preacher doesn't become one of the most popular new comic book shows on television this year, we'll have to assume that whatever gremlin snuck into the Fox offices in 2002 made it to AMC.
Are you psyched for Preacher?