Why The Desperation TV Miniseries Was So Unsuccessful


ABC and Stephen King teamed up for multiple hit miniseries adaptations of his books over the years, but 2006’s Desperation flatlined in the ratings.

ABC and Stephen King teamed up for multiple hit miniseries adaptations of his books over the years, but 2006’s Desperation flatlined in the ratings. King material has a long history of making for good limited run TV productions, whether they be two-four night miniseries or eight-thirteen episode one and done series. In fact, King-based TV series have a higher success rate than the feature films based on King do, as for every classic like The Shining, there’s utter duds like The Mangler and Riding the Bullet.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been some forgettable, or outright bad, King miniseries. In fact, Desperation, by most accounts falls into that camp. Despite having King’s buddy Mick Garris at the helm, a script written by King himself, and a cast full of reliable performers like Ron Perlman, Tom Skerritt, and Steven Weber, Desperation earned largely negative reviews from critics. It also didn’t make much of an impression with fans, and today remains probably the least celebrated King miniseries.

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Related: The One Thing The Shining Miniseries Does Better Than Kubrick’s Movie

More importantly, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned, is the fact that Desperation ended up King’s least-watched miniseries to ever air on ABC, and effectively ended the relationship between the two parties. Desperation‘s underwhelming nature doesn’t explain its flop, as it’s not like people knew it was going to be bad going in. Desperation‘s failure comes down to two regrettable decisions.

Stephen King: Why The Desperation Miniseries Was So Unsuccessful

Stephen King's Desperation - Ron Perlman


The first mistake was made by director Mick Garris. Garris and King originally wrote and planned out Desperation with the intent of adapting it into a feature film. However, Garris was wary of being typecast solely as a King director, so he and King required that any studio who wanted to make Desperation also agree to produce an original Garris movie. No studio bit on that deal. That’s how Desperation ended up at ABC. Naturally, ABC wanted the project to be a two-night miniseries, but Garris pushed back, not wanting to lengthen the script. So in the end, Desperation‘s entire running time aired in a single 3-hour timeslot, pushing how long audiences of the time were willing to sit in front of their TVs without a break.

Then came the even bigger mistake made, this time on ABC’s part. ABC decided to schedule Desperation directly opposite American Idol, which at that point was at or near the height of its popularity and cultural ubiquity, and dominated TV ratings. The counter-programming gamble didn’t pay off, with audiences choosing to watch American Idol en masse, leading to anemic ratings for Desperation. Stephen King himself took public issue with this move, putting the blame for Desperation‘s failure entirely on ABC’s scheduling.

More: Every Director Who Made Multiple Stephen King Movies

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Updated: November 12, 2020 — 11:30 pm

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