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over there

Provocative 'Over There' didn't go over big here
By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
FX's groundbreaking Iraq War drama, Over There, appears likely to become a casualty of low ratings.

FX’s Over There, which depicts U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq, has lost viewers. The show’s fate is still up in the air.

As the critically acclaimed series — the first to depict an ongoing war — heads into its first-season finale tonight (10 ET/PT), its young-adult audience substantially trails those of other FX dramas, including The Shield, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me.

The cable series premiered to more than 4 million viewers after a wave of publicity resulting from speculation about public backlash and the involvement of noted producer Steven Bochco, who created the series with Chris Gerolmo.

But the numbers tailed off to fewer than 2 million, and the young adults prized by advertisers dropped to close to 1 million for later episodes. The series follows a group of Army soldiers in Iraq and their families at home.

Despite the ratings, FX president John Landgraf says he remains proud of Over There and hasn't made a final decision about its future. "I feel really good about it creatively. It's a tough show and at times a very darkly truthful show," he says.

"Chris and Steven did a really good job of developing their characters over the long haul. The last run of episodes is quite moving," Landgraf says. But "the ratings are probably below the level of sustainability from our standpoint."

Some viewers might not have wanted to see more of a war that already was covered heavily in the news, Landgraf and others say.

"I think the obvious point is people are fed up with the war and don't want it in their living room," says Jonathan Taplin, a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. He says FX should be proud of the series' human perspective, which he finds missing from much news coverage.

Bochco and Gerolmo put a face on the war, says co-executive producer Nelson McCormick, who served in the Air Force. "Whenever you read a story about more U.S. deaths in Iraq, if you ever stop to ask, 'Who are these people?' that's the question that we wanted to answer," he says.

McCormick says some friends stopped watching because of the intensity, but the series could not be softened without betraying its vision. He says the 13-show season, which concludes with an open-ended episode, might be better appreciated over time.

Over There, which premiered in July, also might have been hurt by bumping into the fall broadcast season. It went up against new episodes of CSI: NY, Law & Order and Invasion in its final weeks, says Brad Adgate of the ad-buying firm Horizon Media.

The series usually avoided taking a political stand on the war, which might be a reason there has been no large backlash, McCormick says. Not all have liked the show, but he and Landgraf say the feedback has been largely positive.

A man, while serving in Iraq, "said his conversations with his family were two minutes long. Once his family started watching the show, their conversations became 45 minutes long, because it provided context to talk about stuff," Landgraf says.

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