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CBS Owns Television and My Faves Aren’t Cool

November 21, 2007 Leave a comment

I know it’s nothing new… CBS has been dominating TV for a few years now, and they do it with authority. Still, I can’t help but think back to the days when Touched by an Angel was CBS’ big thing, and when they hit the ground running with now long-running reality shows, Big Brother and Survivor, taking on the crest of a reality television wave that soon died out. Remember The Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?… Good times.

I so hated reality TV, though. To some extent, I still do. I like my entertainment scripted, thank you very much. And I don’t buy the “reality” schtick one bit. Those gigs are so staged.

That said, reality television has its merits, and continue to play a large role in American pop culture today — as much as it pains me to admit it.

But, seriously, CBS used to be considered a network for old folks, to put it bluntly. Never did they have the wide breadth of programming that they do now. It was back when NBC consistently ruled the week on a regular basis, and fostered their “Must See TV Thursday” line-up with a two-hour block of strong sitcoms, ranging from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Seinfeld to Mad About You to Friends to Frasier to Will & Grace. All of that was followed by the popular medical drama, ER (which is now in its 14th season).

Mad About You debuted in 1992, and helped launch film careers of both stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. As a result, Hunt is the second actress to have won a Golden Globe, an Emmy and an Oscar all within the same calendar year; the first to do so was Liza Minnelli. Photo © In Front Productions and Nuance Productions

Over the course of roughly 15 years, starting in 1990 with Will Smith’s breakout series, NBC had a revolving door of choices that always gathered strong audiences. This, of course, does not even take into account the success of 80’s sitcoms like Cheers and The Cosby Show. As for the 1990’s, not one of the aforementioned sitcoms lasted less than six seasons, and one can’t turn on the television at any time of the day without finding one of these series airing in syndication.

Unfortunately, that control began to fade as these sitcoms began to die off, one by one. The Fresh Prince ended in 1996, Seinfeld in 1998, and Mad About You ended in 1999 — but not before stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser were making a cool million dollars per episode in the last season (this precedent undoubtedly helped the six Friends stars achieve the same pay a few years later). NBC finally let go of the six-character show with seven-figure actors in 2004, along with Cheers spin-off, Frasier. And they only just called it quits on Will & Grace in 2006.

Friends stars (from L-R) David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox Arquette, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston were, at one point, the highest paid actors in television. Known for their real-life bond, these actors helped keep NBC in the spotlight for a decade. Photo © Warner Bros. Television

It was a bitter release that seriously hurt NBC in the long-run. It’s not to say that their other nights weren’t successful, because they were. However, “Must See TV Thursday” was a staple of the network. Whether it’s by coincidence or not, once the sitcoms faded away, so did NBC’s control. By the time 2004 rolled around, CBS already had several Jerry Bruckheimer dramas in tow, including the three-pronged CSI franchise, Cold Case, Without a Trace and Close to Home. It would seem the Old Fogey network snuck up on us all and wholeheartedly earned control of our entertainment.

So far, CBS hasn’t been sharing much by way of viewers, unless it’s begrudgingly with ABC, another network that underwent somewhat of a revamping a few years ago. Both CSI and Grey’s Anatomy fight for dominance on a regular basis — that is, when American Idol isn’t on, the World Series isn’t in full swing, or Dancing with the Stars isn’t airing. Otherwise, they take turns for the Number 1 spot of the week. Ironically, both series air during the same timeslot on Thursday nights — a night with which NBC seems to struggle rather consistently nowadays.

Popular online website zap2it.com has the Nielsen’s list of Top 20 series for the week of November 11th through November 18th. Of the series listed, CBS has 11, ABC has 6, NBC has 2 (with their highest ranking being at 11 with Sunday Night Football), and FOX has 1. Seriously, it’s no longer much of a contest anymore, and the tables have certainly turned.

Talk of Grey’s Anatomy leads me to the conclusion that my shows just aren’t “cool” yet, even halfway through the season, while dramas like the one starring Ellen Pompeo continues to dominate. I’ve never gotten into it, but I absolutely love Shonda Rhimes’ other medical drama, Private Practice. I really can’t believe it’s only recently broken into the Top 20 spot, though I have my theories as to why that is.

For one thing, they don’t have sex all the time. Grey’s was built upon the sex lives of the young interns.

For another, three-fourths of the Private Practice cast are over the age of 35. The leads, a cast of geniuses really, don’t really cater to the preferred demographic I guess, which would explain why there wasn’t as much crossover between both Rhimes series as perhaps everyone expected.

Private Practice stars television veterans (from L-R) Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald, Tim Daly, Kate Walsh, Amy Brenneman and Paul Adelstein, along with relative newcomer, Chris Lowell. Photo © ShondaLand

It’s a shame, too. Kate Walsh, Audra McDonald, Amy Brenneman, Taye Diggs, Paul Adelstein and Tim Daly are all immensely talented. I don’t really care that they all seem to have a “been there, done that” air about them. It’s because they’re not playing sex-crazed, twenty-somethings that I enjoy them so much. No offense to Grey’s, because it’s a great show in its own right, but Private Practice is much more mature without the “mature” content. It’s been nearly eight episodes, and I’m pretty sure there’s only been one sex scene — if that. It’s rare for a show to go that long without nookie, and I applaud them.

Sadly, the same applies to my other favorite series, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty and Women’s Murder Club. None of them are in the top spots, they don’t have sexy, steamy characters in dramatic relationships, and that’s apparently what sells. That and crime dramas, like Criminal Minds and NCIS. Oh well. Thankfully they’re still performing strong enough to stick around.

Now, for spoiler junkies like myself, TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello has revealed some great scoop about some of the top-rated series on television (along with some other juicy secrets) here. You’ve gotta love this guy, if not for his fans.

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Strike Turns Hollywood Upside Down! Yikes!

November 7, 2007 5 comments

WGA Strike, Part III of ?

I know I’ve been talking about the WGA strike a lot lately, but I do have my reasons: This is an “intelligent entertainment” blog, and if talented, tenured writers are no longer producing content, there’s not going to be much entertainment in our future. Worse still, it probably won’t be all that intelligent, either. More than likely decisions will be made on the fly and off the cuff, by actors, producers and directors alike.

Heroes is reportedly filming a new ending to a December episode this week in anticipation of it filling in as a season finale. Photo copyright NBC Universal Television.

At this point in time, ABC’s Desperate Housewives, NBC’s Heroes and ER, Fox’s Back to You and ‘Til Death, and CBS’ Two and a Half Men, Rules of Engagement, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and The Big Bang Theory are all halting production, among many others, as shown in the updated grid on latimes.com. The scary part is that many of the series listed in the table only have anywhere between three and seven more weeks of programming left before their done. I say “scary,” because TV is going to be inundated with unscripted, reality television shows come January, and I was so relieved when that trend took a downward turn. We can only hope that it doesn’t become uber-popular again. That would be the worst kind of irony for writers once this whole issue is resolved.

The way I see it, this strike could essentially cause one of two things. Short of costing Hollywood much more than the $500 million it cost them in 1988, it may bring crews together in that sometimes elusive, yet collaborative, effort to create quality programming. Without writers to do the work, others will have to step up to the plate. It could be downright inspiring.

Or, sadly, it could cause an even deeper divide in Hollywood.

So far, it’s looking pretty bright. Actors like Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, America Ferrera and cast members from The Office have reportedly expressed their support of the writers, though many of their colleagues have remained coy. According to Variety, executive producers have been “refusing to cross the picket lines even to perform non-writing chores on scripts that have already been completed.” It’s great to see that there is such a unified front from Screen Actors Guild members and executive producers.

The Hollywood Reporter has a great article that documents the back-and-forth debate between Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) president Nick Counter and WGA leaders. Make of it what you will.

It looks like many in the media underestimated how badly the strike was going to hit production on a variety of shows, but I think it’s a good sign that everyone is still supporting the writers. We’ll see how far that support goes in two months’ time, though it’s fairly clear which side of the debate is causing the problem here. Hopefully the writers will get what they want (and deserve) in a timely manner, so everyone can get back to work.

Still — and this is pure speculation here — I wonder if this may be drawn out longer so as to stop any chances of a precedent being formed. There’s been talk of a Screen Actors Guild/Directors Guild strike this summer, and maybe The Powers That Be are hoping it will be reconsidered, so as to prevent another huge hit like this. I don’t think anyone wants to see production halt from coast to coast, but if SAG members have justifiable reasons like the writers, it may be quite necessary. According to Firefox News, SAG president Alan Rosenberg was pretty confident, saying, “We’ll get what they get.”

For everyone’s sake, I hope that confidence is bankable.

Did You Survive Premiere Week?

October 2, 2007 1 comment

This blog post comes in a bit late due to the fact that I had a hard time picking which premieres were worth my time. Even with the help of my trusty TiVo and a relatively mild weekend, I had to be pretty choosy. In the end, I came up with some old faves and some solid newbies.

Cold Case

On Sunday, September 23, Cold Case premiered on CBS. I thought it was a bit unusual, considering most shows premiere on the Sunday that follows premiere week. (Though The Simpsons premiered that evening as well.) I’m not sure why that is, but Monday usually leads the week off.

At any rate, Lily looks as though she’s going to take a bit of a dark turn this season after narrowly dodging death in last season’s finale. We knew there was little risk of her being offed considering she’s the lead character, but it still created some pretty good tension. It’ll be interesting to see where they take the character from here.

Heroes

Heroes premiered Monday on NBC. I honestly meant to catch up on this series during the summer, but I didn’t, so I was completely lost. According to a couple of the people I asked around campus, Heroes was a big deal. I’m considering getting Season One on DVD, but I’ll have to think about it. All in all, I’m just impressed that a sci-fi show was able to thrive in mainstream television. Perhaps there’s hope for the genre yet.

Journeyman

Speaking of hope for the sci-fi genre, NBC took another crack at an intense time-traveling thriller with Journeyman last week. It was a no-brainer to pair this freshman series with Heroes. Still, just as many critics warned, the series was a bit hard to follow at first. It could be a bit stronger, but I really like the style of cinematography and pacing. It’s possible that the series merely needs to find its footing, and it still seems to be performing. We’ll see how it works out.

Law and Order: SVU

Ah, procedural dramas. NBC’s most popular L&O series premiered on Tuesday. I really, really think they’ve jumped the shark with Elliott and his ex-wife preparing to raise another kid. I’m sure it had something to do with causing some tension between Elliott and Olivia, or maybe it was attempt to further distance the characters from any potential romance.

Either way, though I liked that they focused on his family in the beginning of the series’ existence, his wife and kids have become a nuisance over the years. The premiere was decent, with Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City fame playing a mother with a multiple personality disorder. It didn’t quite compare to the premieres of seasons’ past, but it was entertaining.

Bionic Woman

The highly touted, uber-advertised, Bionic Woman premiered Wednesday on NBC to much fanfare. The lead actress who plays the title role, Michelle Ryan, is a relative unknown, and there were some scenes that had a bit of a shaky delivery. Still, there’s an intensity and an honesty that comes across in character Jamie Sommers.

The show definitely has potential. I’m a sucker for great special effects and action, but it also had an interesting storyline as well. It helps that they’re also tackling a philosophical issue that’s very timely in this technological age. How far is too far when it comes to bioengineering? It’s a good question that’s bound to come up more and more as the season continues.

With less cheesy one-liners in the heat of action, and more development of Jamie, her sister and her boyfriend, I think the series has a shot at becoming another Heroes.

Private Practice

Premiering opposite Bionic Woman, Private Practice debuted on ABC Wednesday, with both series starting off pretty well. What Practice lacked in action against Bionic, it made up for in strong characters.

It’s hard to say if lightning will strike twice for Shonda Rhimes, creator of both Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. I do have to say, however, that the new sister series definitely leads in the Talented and Accomplished Actors department (though the young actors on the former series are very talented as well). With the likes of Amy Brenneman and Taye Diggs, I see a lot of potential for Kate Walsh’s (Addison on Grey’s) new series. I’m glad she was able to spread her wings on a show that will showcase her talents. There’s something about her quirky character that’s way more endearing than Meredith, in my opinion.

Critics like TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello also warned of a weak start for the series, which I can agree with to some extent. There were moments that seemed a bit absurd — but, hey, Grey’s has gotten away with a lot more with less logic, so I’m willing to give this show a shot.

ER

The show that just keeps getting rescusitated premiered with its 14th season (that’s right!) Thursday on NBC. It was weaker than most, and seemed a bit dead in some areas, but the main characters of this season are still compelling.

There are probably a lot of people who can’t believe this show is still on the air, and I have to admit I’m pretty surprised myself. It’s a show that won’t die, but as long as the chemistry between the cast remains (John Stamos, notwithstanding), I’ll try to catch it every now and again. It probably won’t be as religious as before, but I won’t write it off until it’s cancelled.

Stargate Atlantis

Finally, I’m allowed to let the geek in me roam free for a bit as I talk about Stargate Atlantis, which premiered Friday on the SCIFI Channel. It was a fairly decent season opener, with the introduction of two new cast members, Amanda Tapping (Colonel Samantha Carter) from the recently cancelled Stargate SG-1, and Jewel Staite (Dr. Jennifer Keller) from Firefly, which was cancelled a few years ago and concluded with the movie, Serenity.

It probably could’ve been a bit stronger, considering its future is not quite secure. For the most part, though, the scope of the premiere was pretty good, and will hopefully lead into other new storylines for the fourth season. The cast changes caused heated debates among fans, and there are some who are skeptical as to whether or not Stargate Atlantis will see a fifth season pick-up from Stargate. Still, with ailing original series in its lineup, SCIFI may be more amenable than expected.

It’s a wait-and-see game for producers and viewers alike, as only time will tell if the series can perform on its own without the ten-year-old Stargate SG-1 as a lead-in. Here’s hoping, because I’m a huge, geeky fan of that show, and I’d like it to succeed.

That’s about it. I’ll be following Bionic Woman, Private Practice and Atlantis closely, while catching Cold Case, Journeyman, SVU and ER when I can. There are loads of other series out there to try, like the CW’s Aliens in America and Reaper, as well as ABC’s Samantha Who? and Pushing Daisies. Those seem to be critically acclaimed winners… and those types of shows tend to lack the kind of viewership that will keep them around for the long haul. I should probably check them out soon before they get the ax.

So, did I miss anything? Are there shows I’ve overlooked?