What Went Wrong with The CW's Ringer?

Natalie Abrams
Sarah Michelle Gellar | Photo Credits: Michael Desmond/The CW

On Tuesday, Ringer's freshman season comes to a close — and it's anyone's guess as to whether or not it will be renewed for a second season.

Why? Ratings haven't been great. Ringer hit a series low two weeks ago with only 1.05 million tuning in. On the surface, it's hard to explain why: Not only was Sarah Michelle Gellar, best known for her Buffy the Vampire Slayer days, returning to TV, but viewers were getting a double dose of her as estranged twins, one of whom faked her own death. There was also whole lot of eye candy (see: Ioan Gruffudd, Kristopher Polaha and Lost alum Nestor Carbonell), and a murder mystery with as many twists and turns as there are Buffy die-hards.

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So why didn't Ringer become the new guilty pleasure hit? TVGuide.com turned to series executive producer Pam Veasey (CSI: NY) to get her take on why the neo-noir thriller never clicked with a big audience. Plus: Veasey discusses how Season 2 would be different should the series get renewed, and how Siobhan and Bridget have become the "will-they-or-won't-they" duo of the show. (Oh, get your mind out of the gutter!)

Now that Ringer's first year is coming to a close, did the first season turn out the way you guys had imagined?
When you start, you have all these ideas and then you create the stories responding to what the audience is hungry for. As writers/producers, it's not always what you plan when you first sit down because you don't know how the audience will respond. The reasons the sisters were apart was important for us to reveal and we did that. Bridget living in this life, pretending to be Siobhan, with Siobhan being back in New York knowing her sister had taken her role. Those things were planned and those things worked out.

Did the season finale end up being what you guys had planned or was it altered?
It's a combination of what [co-creators Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder] planned and some additions. A television show is a breathing, living creature. It takes on a life of its own because the audiences respond to certain actors or certain moments or certain things. We knew Andrew (Gruffudd) had an ex-wife, but we didn't know how involved Catherine (Andrea Roth) would be in the stories in the back end. And we knew there would be relationship issues with Bridget learning about her sister's affair with Henry (Polaha) and the complications of that, but we didn't know how that would unfold. It really is an animal unto itself when you're starting the season.

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When the series was in development, it was moved from CBS to CW. How did that change Ringer?
We only built the pilot for CBS, and then from that point on we knew we were with CW once we got on the air. They are different. I believe CW is more serialized. Their audiences tend to stay with it, and CBS tends to close the stories more. Because I work actually for both networks and I'm aware of that. We just started making the product for CW. I can't say that something changed, we just started developing the stories so they fit better with CW.

Do you think the serialized nature of the show was hard for people to follow?
I think the audiences who [watched from the beginning] loved the detail and complexity of the episodes, but I think people joining found it difficult to jump right in because you missed some things even though we had recaps. The lesson you learn is that people don't want to have to know a lot. They want to enjoy the episode. We have lots of episodes like that, but others may have seemed complicated for the audience. I get it, because audiences don't want to drop in and understand it right away. And if they've missed the recaps I think there's a little bit of frustration. It was a double edge sword.

With that in mind, if you could go back, is there anything you would've done differently in the first season?
Clearly, we would have to think about it. That's a challenging question to ask me at this point. Yeah, I think we would still attempt to surprise the audience every single episode, just give them something they didn't expect, but we probably would have had fewer stories in each episode. I would suggest that, just stay with a couple of stories and run a story line over three [episodes] and then end it. We started that at the beginning and then more things were interesting, and we had such tremendous actors join us that we wanted to keep everybody alive. You'd look back and say simplifying might have helped us for the audiences that wanted to tune in.

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Should the series get renewed for a second season, are those things you're looking to change?
We know what worked on the show and what didn't. As the series ends, we know we have both Siobhan and Bridget in New York, and Bridget well aware of some new secrets. The first season served a lot of back story of how we got to this place. The beauty of another season is it'll all be in the present. There's nothing to catch up on from who they were. Everybody is caught up if they've watched, so it [becomes] a show about watching what's happening in the present.

Was there a certain point during the first season when you realized something wasn't working, that the audience just wasn't catching on?
We were taken off the air from December through February, but we were still producing shows, so we didn't get the feedback to know that. It was a difficult pause in the schedule, where you didn't know whether they were getting it or not getting it. What you see now is there's been a run, the audiences are catching up and they're getting it because it's all connected together. The beauty of serialized shows, and also the curse of them, is they really need to string together consecutively because the audience needs to take the ride. I think cable has the benefit that you can probably find your show on, if you missed it, a thousand times and that way you can catch up, or get it On Demand. With ours, if you missed it, you could of course TiVo it, but you've got to get in sync and it's got to be consecutive. To me, it was just a great first season of a really intense twin relationship story. Because we were off, it was hard to know the response of the audience. That chunk of time was a complication for us.

The twins' relationship is at the center of the show, but they haven't come face-to-face since the pilot. You guys have played a lot with them coming thisclose, but just missing each other. Did you guys ever think you should just get it over with? Were you holding yourselves back?
Yes. It's like when people stay with a series because they're waiting for these two people to get together, and the writers and producers never get those two people together in a love relationship. It's the same thing. "Oh, they're going to catch each other!" "Oh, they don't!" I think the audience loves the anticipation of when the moment will be, and they think it's coming and then, "Oh, that wasn't it!" So we enjoyed writing to those moments, but we were trying to hold it back because there's so much more to play with that. I don't think people get tired of it. I don't think they go, "Oh, I can't believe they didn't see each other again." I think they go "Oh, I thought that was going to be the time." I think it's one of those enjoyable stalls that they appreciate. And then they'll be really shocked when it does happen.

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What do you think really worked during the first season?
I think the surprises, the intrigue and the relationship with the twins. When most people think, "How is a sister going to step into the role of the other sister? And are we going to buy it?" I think that really worked. Eric and Nicole built a great foundation in the first script, so that when Bridget stepped into the life of Siobhan the audience wasn't constantly saying "Why doesn't anybody not know that's her?" That's what was really successful at working.

With Sarah Michelle's performances, the audience knew when it was Siobhan and when it was Bridget. They could tell by the attitude and the way she slightly changed things, like the way she dressed, but also Siobhan had this cold feeling to her. To me, it was really great to see how you just knew which twin it was, and I thought Sarah played that brilliantly. It wasn't grand. It wasn't like one had an accent or someone had a tattoo or anything like that. She really knew how to sink into Siobhan so that you knew it the minute you saw the character.

What did you enjoy about Ringer and where do you think it went wrong? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.

Ringer's season finale airs Tuesday at 9/8c on The CW.

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