If you haven’t noticed lately, the crime shows have turned up the volume on their gross-out factor. No one and nothing is sacred and the more gruesome the better. Children being murdered, women being raped, even incest are all fair game in the wars for ratings. But Harper’s Island, which debuted this week, seeks to breathe new life into the mostly static programming of late. If you imagine Lost is a re-imagining of Survivor, or was before it became completely confusing and unwatchable, Harper’s Island is sort of along these lines. It plans to be kind of like FX’s Damages, except that the story ends when the season ends. If there is another Harper’s Island, it will be with an entirely different cast, perhaps even set in a new location. Twilight Zone anyone?Each week, a new character is killed off. Viewers of the show are allowed to enter contests which could earn them a $1,000 prize if they correctly guess whom will get bumped off next. Eventually, the real killer is discovered in what promises to be a grisly end on July 2nd. Damages and Fox’s 24 feel the most like this except that in both cases the story picks back up again with many of the same characters. Harper’s Island is a one-trick pony – one cast, one story, one murderer. It’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to watch it, except for the fact that it is so high concept it may turn out to be its own worst enemy. Remember that web series Quarterlife? Someone thought they knew the “Y Generation” well enough to figure out that somehow audiences on the web would be interested in these whiny young people. Turns out, no one was. Funny thing about the online world – they don’t much like it when producers and networks presume to know what qualifies as interactive and interesting and what qualifies as pretentious and a waste of time. Harper’s Island has a website, Harper’sGlobe.com, which ties into the show directly and also hopes to create its own online community of fans. There is already an Iphone app for the show as well. If the concept holds, and more Harper’s Islands are produced it could turn into the kind of phenomenon American Idol has become. Surely that’s what they’re hoping for, the kind of thing everyone is talking about and can’t get enough of. It remains to be seen, though, if this gamble will pay off. The show is going to have to be really good beyond the contests and the website and all of the “interactivity.” It will have to be involving and well made, and smart enough to keep the surprises coming. The second it becomes predictable, it’s done. It couldn’t come at a better time, however. With viewership down across the board, new blood is just what CBS needs. Who knows, maybe it will start a trend.
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