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"I simply don't care a damn what happens in Nebraska, no matter who writes about it."
A now-forgotten critic on the book O Pioneers!

While some shows fail just because they're bad, or because they weren't marketed much and people didn't know they existed, there are some that don't stand a chance in the first place. Not because they're terrible or badly done, and in fact they may be even fantastically done for what they are. But because the very concept scared people away.

It could be because of Squick. For example, An American Crime is a movie based on the real life torture and murder of a teenage girl at the hands of her foster mother and their children. Sound like fun? Most people don't think so, even if the movie is genuinely well-made.

Other times, it's because the concept is unique, but in a way that scares away audiences rather than grows them. For example, Avatar: The Last Airbender, about kids and young teens going on adventures to save a fantasy world, is a hit with both kids and adults, due to the generally light tone and the complexity of the story, and a theme that has broad appeal. On the other hand, Fox's Peter Pan and the Pirates was by comparison a failure and was cancelled in less than 2 years. It featured young children going on adventures in a fantasy world, had complex characterization for the time, and took itself seriously and got quite dark at times. But instead of growing its audience, it shrunk it. Older kids think Peter Pan is beneath them, while younger kids would find the cartoon scary or intimidating (and it did have its share of Nightmare Fuel).

This is the Audience-Alienating Premise. An idea that could be cool and could even make a fantastic show, book, movie, video game or comic, and may very well have, but which instead dooms the work from the very start due to the mere concept alone being totally unapproachable to most people. Sadly, due to merely how it "sounds", many people won't try it out. In some cases, it might become much more popular in another country due to differences in tastes and sometimes values.

See also One-Episode Wonder, which is what happens to many of these. Can overlap with Public Medium Ignorance, as works with that suffer from this have a strong tendency to be audience alienating. Could also overlap with Necessary Weasel, and Anthropic Principle.

Examples of Audience-Alienating Premise include:


Anime and Manga

  • Bludgeoning Angel Dokurochan. Bear with us here: an angel comes back in time to repeatedly and brutally murder (and promptly reanimate) a junior high student, in order to stop him from creating a 'pedophile's world' where all females don't age past 12 years old. And it's a COMEDY!
  • Elfen Lied actually poses thought-provoking questions about nature vs nurture and unethical science. To anyone walking in, however, it's just a gory series about little girls being tortured. You're lucky if they don't think of you as a sadistic pedophile.
  • Koi Kaze is about a man in his late 20s and a teenage girl 12 years younger who fall in love. What's the alienating part? They're brother and sister and haven't seen each other in a long time. Also depending on the person, the idea of an adult and a high schooler falling in love can be Squick material.
  • Lyrical Nanoha. A Magical Girl series aimed specifically at young adult males. While this unique approach may work in Japan, it's a different matter in the west. Most adult male anime fans in the U.S. would take one good look at the cutesy imagery on Nanoha's DVD and run for cover. As it stands, the licensors have passed on bringing anymore of Nanoha to American shores... and it looks like it'll stay that way for the foreseeable future. Maybe if they used a different type of cover, it'd be more acceptable considering Nanoha is less "Magical Girl series" and more "Action packed, mecha series disguised as a cute Magical Girl series".
  • Maria Holic. The series is about a sadistic double-faced crossdresser who torments and abuses a perverted lesbian teenager at an all girls school. It hasn't fared well with many people, especially in the U.S. and other countries..
  • Spice and Wolf. It's about medieval economics, and stars a traveling merchant and his love interest who is a 500 year old pagan wolf deity. You try getting people to watch it. The way they did try to sell it was emphasizing the initial nakedness of said love interest, which had the side effect of making it look (to anime fans) like a Magical Girlfriend series ala To Love Ru, which it isn't.
  • Madoka Magica exploited this trope by starting off disguised as a mostly normal-looking cutesy Magical Girl show, causing many people to stop watching it in disgust before the real, much darker premise took shape. But, of course, once everyone learned what the show was actually about, the trope got played straight, since some of the people who actually like cutesy magical-girl shows didn't have any interest in watching a brutally deconstructed version.
  • Suicide Island: The title itself will probably scare away a number of people. The premise goes like this: the Japanese government has lost big chunks of money due to hospitals being crowded with people attempting to commit suicide. In response to this, the government gives these people the choice of trying to live on or die. If these people choose to die, they will then sign papers, they will be rendered unconscious (nicely), and they will wake up to find themselves on the titular Suicide Island. They are declared UnPersons and they can do whatever they want on the island, as long as they don't try to leave...but there are really no means (and likely not even desire) to leave anyway. The premise itself will probably scare a number of people off, because they might think it's just a story where they get to watch people commit suicide. While some of the characters do, it ends up scaring the other characters into trying to live on and make the best of their situation. The story could be compared to Lord of the Flies on some levels. Also, the story examines the minds of these characters, to help the reader understand why they would want to die in the first place. The examination reveals some dark stuff about Japanese culture, like the Hikikomori, pressures of society, There Are No Therapists (actually, there are in this story, but it doesn't seem to be working), the stigma of shame, and so on. Indeed, the story seems to be a critique of how Japanese society has something fundamentally wrong with it, and is causing people to not really live. It's likely that this story did not sell well in Japan, and it's hard to say how well it would have sold in other countries, since there is no way to sugar-coat this story!
  • Wandering Son portrays puberty and LGBT issues - especially transgendered ones - quite seriously. This puts off many people (and not JUST cis heterosexuals) since it's outside of their comfort zone or they're so used to comedies about the subject.
  • The manga Lotte no Omocha is a story about a strapping young man who is tricked by elves into moving to another world, specifically so a 10-year-old succubus can have sex with him for the rest of his life. Trying to talk about it generally goes like this: "It's a story about a man becoming a surrogate father--" "Wait. Isn't that the one with the ten-year-old succubus?" "Yeah, but--" "Ten-year-old. Succubus."
  • Kodomo No Jikan is about a pre-pubescent girl who falls in love with her teacher, and acts overtly sexual to get his attention, which you wouldn't expect to do well in the US. It didn't get a chance to -- it was canceled when the licensing company learned how bookstores and distributors would react: by canceling orders. Outside of Japan, owning something like this could theoretically get people thrown in jail. The US release was also slated to have the audience-alienating title of "Nymphet", which was requested by the author since Seven Seas couldn't use the original [translated] title of "A Child's Time".


Comicbooks

  • Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld: A Magical Girl maxiseries created during early 80's? It didn't stand a chance, so DC killed the series by making the main character evil and blowing up her homeworld. Of course, if they had the foresight to allow the property to live until the 90s, they could have had a hot product on their hands...
  • Power Pack (the original 1980s comic): Kid superheroes, except that instead of featuring wacky antics and dumb adult villains, the theme was played totally straight. In other words, the story took itself seriously and was meant to be seen as such, but many people wrote it off because it was about kids. Kids who wanted to see wacky antics probably ended up disappointed. Most other people dismissed it out of hand, because they assumed a story about children would just be wacky and stupid. It's probably no coincidence that most of the letters to the editor came from adults, and the occasional 12-year-old who was surprised at the quality of the storytelling.
  • Yeah! by Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez is a girls' comic about three girls in a rock band who are trying to make it big but can only get fans in outer space. It was intended to resemble the girls' comics of the sixties, and it is to comic books what a disco album by Iron Maiden would be to the world of music: It doesn't contain any of the stuff that their fans like, and it belongs to a genre that nobody's been interested in for decades. It was cancelled after nine poorly-selling issues, and the fact that it's a fun comic with good writing and nice artwork didn't really make a difference.


Films

  • Basically every movie set during the second Gulf War has been a box office bomb, The Kingdom, The Green Zone, In The Valley Of Elah, and most notably, Best Picture Winner The Hurt Locker. The war itself is so politically charged that any depiction of it risks alienating large chunks of the audience based on its perceived politics. And it is too current to be escapism.
  • Alegria, the dramatic film inspired by the Cirque Du Soleil show, is a fable that entwines the story of a street mime and a circus singer falling in Love At First Sight with that of unwanted children being forced to tend and sell flowers for a cruel taskmaster. It's too dark and mature thematically for children -- the story kicks off with the mime and his child friend both literally wanting to die, a supporting character is a lovelorn old alcoholic, etc. But how many teens or adults want to watch a movie about whimsical circus people helping to realize a World Half Full? The film only made it to theaters in Canada and a few European countries.
  • This is one reason Newsies bombed in 1992: A drama about an 1899 newsboys' strike! And it's a musical!
  • Funny Games presents itself as a Gorn film that deconstructs the genre and makes the viewer question why they watch gorn films to start with. The problem here is that gorn fans don't appreciate being told they're sick bastards by the films they're watching, and non-fans aren't going to watch it in the first place.
  • The Human Centipede: As an experiment, three people are sewn to one another as part of a single digestive tract.
  • Lawn Dogs. Now here's an audience killer. A 10-year-old girl and a 21-year-old man become close friends. It's rated R. Their relationship is mostly platonic, but there are strong hints that the girl has feelings for the man. Not many people want to watch a movie about this, though those that have tend to consider the film to be excellent.
  • Milk Money: A lighthearted comedy about three young boys trying to see a prostitute naked. Then it gets even crazier when the prostitute is introduced to the father of one of the boys as a potential love interest, many critics were Squicked out by the premise at the time and criticized it as such.
  • The Postman: It was, um, difficult for the marketing to explain the movie's premise. Apparently, it involves a man rebuilding America After the End by... delivering the mail?
  • Precious, a story about a 16-year-old illiterate obese girl having the baby resulting from her father's rapes while dealing with an abusive mother? That's something the Oscars might think went too far. It Gets Worse, the baby has Down's Syndrome, a second incest-rape baby is on the way, her mother is also sexually abusive, and at the end she finds out her father is dead. From HIV. That she also has. And she's only sixteen (though fortunately for Precious, she gets a few hopeful moments by the end: she can read and write, her kids are HIV-negative, and she's finally escaped her parents). While these elements are typically Hollywood poison, they're extremely popular with Lit Fic. Being The Film of the Book of the critically acclaimed Push, the film already had the buzz of a hot literary property, plus the support of superstars like Tyler Perry and Oprah. Precious made $62 million and earned two Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Mo'Nique as Precious' mother Mary) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World failed to find an audience due to combining too many niches together: comic books, indie rock and video games from the 80s. Its audience would have to be a particular breed of hipster that appreciates all three. The fact that Michael Cera lacks drawing power also didn't help.
  • A Serbian Film. It's basically 90 minutes of intentionally shocking and violent sex, capped off with newborn porn!
  • Tideland is about a 10-year-old girl who spends several weeks in an abandoned house with her father's bloating corpse. To pass the time, she has increasingly bizarre daydreams about her Barbie heads and befriends a mentally handicapped man, with whom she practices kissing. The DVD automatically plays an introduction by director Terry Gilliam, who admits that the viewer might very well hate the film.
  • Trash Humpers: Grainy, camcorder footage of a trio of crazed elderly people that kill people and mutilate baby dolls. Basically, all of Harmony Korine's work can be deemed at this.
  • Vulgar, a film financed by Kevin Smith and written and directed by his friend Bryan Johnson, recounted the story of a kind, but struggling, children's party clown who is viciously raped by a Complete Monster father and his brain-dead sons. Sound like fun?
  • Some audiences were turned off by the titular character in John Carter because of him being a confederate soldier, pretty much any movie set in the distant past with a pro-south viewpoint is going to have a hard time finding any kind of audience.
    • To counterpoint, nearly every Civil War movie in the past 50 years has had a pro-South viewpoint. You could likely count the number of Civil War movies with a pro-North viewpoint with one hand.
  • Dick, a comedy set in the 1970's about two teenage girls who develop a crush on Richard Nixon and end up becoming one of the major figures in the Watergate scandal. Teens weren't interested in a comedy based around 1970's nostalgia while adults weren't interested in the revisionist history concept (the film also depicts Woodward and Bernstein as a pair of morons) so the film died a quick death at the box office. However, it has become a cult film over the years.
  • Treasure Planet presents an interesting overlap between this trope and They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot. It's a Disney Animated retelling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson Pirate coming-of-age adventure story Treasure Island....with a Steampunk Space Is Magic/Space is an Ocean Space Opera setting. Fans of the original book who want a traditional take on the story just in the Disney Animated style have to put up with the Sci-Fi elements, whereas Sci-Fi fans have to put up with the fact the story is Science Fantasy rather than hard or Soft SF with the spaceships and clothing looking like traditional Pirate/Wooden Ships and Iron Men vehicles than standard Spacecraft. It's not so much people found the premise of Treasure Island Recycled in Space offputting, it's more they felt it should have either been a Standard Sci Fi Setting take on the story or a Truer to the Text animated version with the traditional Wooden Ships and Iron Men setting. It's more Audience-Alienating Execution rather than Audience-Alienating Premise.
  • A Little Piece of Heaven looks like it might be a heartwarming Christmas movie at first glance, but the story is shamelessly about a man who kidnaps children to work on a farm and play with his handicapped sister under the guise of an angel come to spirit them to Heaven.

Literature

  • Lolita is a prime example of this, to the extent that it's mostly known in the general public as "that novel about paedophila". Fortunately, its status as a modern classic prevents it from becoming too neglected, but most people unaware of why it's considered so great are likely to pass it up due to the premise.
  • Stephen King withheld Pet Sematary from publication for several years because he felt the subject matter made the book unpublishable.


Live-Action TV

  • Heil Honey I'm Home: A 1990 British sitcom starring caricatures of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun who live in matrimonial bliss until they become neighbors to a Jewish couple. Being a satire didn't help much, nor the fact that the only joke the show had was that the main characters are Hitler and Eva. An argument could be made that the show was a Deconstruction of the sitcom format itself, not only in that it could turn the most evil man in the world not just into a supposedly cuddly sitcom character, but also the conventions of the sitcom format forced what could be a brilliant Black Comedy into yet another unfunny formulaic sitcom. However, that's probably giving the creators of the show too much credit.
  • Lone Star was supposed to be the big show of 2010 for its network, but the premise turned off audiences so badly it was canceled after two episodes. Unlike shows like Leverage or Hustle, the conman protagonist was not stealing just from Jerkasses but was also cheating nice, hard-working people. The Heel Face Turn that was supposed to set him up on the road to redemption (and audience sympathy) turned out to be just a way for him to marry two different women and maintain a double life. When the audience finds no redeeming qualities in the main character and wants him thrown in jail as soon as possible, the premise just doesn't work.
  • Profit featured a Villain Protagonist before other shows dabbled with the concept. It didn't last a single season.
  • Not nearly as severe as other examples, but some viewers find themselves put off by the fact that Friday Night Lights is "about football". It kind of is, but interest in football isn't (necessarily) a requirement to enjoy the show at all, any more than an interest in ghosts is required to enjoy Ghostbusters. It's just a good and interesting small-town/family drama.
    • And the flipside was that NBC also targeted football fans, promoting it heavily during Sunday Night Football telecasts, only that those fans found too little football and passed, and everyone else who passed on it thought "too much football."
      • That the football in question is the American variety didn't help it overseas; in Britain, ITV4 only aired the first season.
  • Even pro-capitalist viewers have reported difficulties with the show House of Lies. It's about taking money from rich business owners... and giving it to rich management consultants instead. This wouldn't be so bad if the consultants in question didn't Kick the Dog every episode, or act in some hypocritical fashion that makes it difficult to take the characters seriously.


Music


Tabletop Games

  • FATAL's premise is "What if, instead of playing in a sanitized Dungeons and Dragons-style fantasy world, you had one with all the negative traits of Ancient Rome and The Dung Ages rolled into one?" Even if FATAL had been a masterwork of mechanical genius (which, um, it isn't), with a premise like that, it wouldn't have made it big anyway. One of the most well-known memes about the "game" is "Roll for anal circumference!" That single line right there tells you all you need to know about this "game".


Videogames

  • The Binding of Isaac could be considered one. You are a young boy named Isaac. Your mother was commanded by God to kill you to prove her loyalty, so you escape into the basement...which happens to be filled with demons, mutants, undead fetuses, and the occasional Horseman of the Apocalypse or incarnation of one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And you have to fight them off using only your tears. And sometimes your urine. Or your blood
    • Subverted in that it's done very well for itself, selling half a million copies, and the "Wrath of the lamb" expansion was in the top sellers list on steam when released.
  • JFK: Reloaded: A simulation game where you fire the fateful shot that kills John F Kennedy, scoring you based on how well you were able to recreate the actual assassination. It's actually pretty educational and developed with the noble goal of disproving the Conspiracy Theories surrounding the shooting, but... yeah.
  • Monster Girl Quest: Lose and the Girls Rape You. It's a deep and engaging story deconstructing half the tropes in existence and parodying the rest, involving a race war that goes back to the dawn of the world...but that doesn't change the fact that the battle mechanic is the hero fighting off the monster girls who are trying to rape him..
  • Rance: It's a text heavy Eastern RPG series where the protagonist is a Heroic Comedic Sociopath serial rapist. It averts Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil hard while playing with all other Rape Tropes. That being said, it is one of the Video Game Long Runners for a reason.
  • The Unholy War is a great game which combined fast paced combat with very slow paced turn-based strategy, not targeting any of those two genres' audiences. Action-oriented gamers are scared by the "slow and meticulous" chess-like gameplay while the strategy-oriented gamers are scared by the "quick and dumb" action gameplay.


Visual Novels


Western Animation

  • The animated movie Felidae is a film noir with blood, murder, sex, and a cult. Starring cats. Its look made many people think it was a Disney-type movie, but the actual content is not kid-friendly, thus it scared away adult audiences while not attracting kid audiences.
  • Fox's Peter Pan and The Pirates was a cartoon with some great writing and storytelling, that was surprisingly gothic at times (with its share of Nightmare Fuel!). Why didn't it do well? Well, it's about Peter Pan, and yet it takes itself dead seriously and has more mature storytelling than you'd expect given the source material. Hence, little kids who might be drawn in by Peter Pan got scared away, and older kids who'd enjoy the story took one look at who it's about and decided it was kiddy. Note that the original novel was very dark in its way, as well (at the end, Tinkerbell is dead, and Peter is too childlike to remember, or care, who she was, for example). But, thanks to Disneyfication, anything that returns to the spirit of the original alienates everyone.
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