News

Fall TV preview: Why broadcast networks deserve another look

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Weird.

That's the only word to describe the fall TV season, which is the biggest casualty of the 100-day writers strike.

TV executives often talk about wanting to shake up the way they do business. And TV critics and viewers often wish networks wouldn't load each fall season with more new programs than any sane person can absorb.

This year, both wishes were granted. Thanks to the strike, which began in November, fewer new shows were made for fall. As of this writing, I've only seen eight of about two dozen new programs. They're not necessarily all bad (a few were even surprisingly pleasant), but there's a tentativeness about the broadcast network offerings.

We're getting remakes of foreign shows ("Eleventh Hour," "Kath & Kim," "Life on Mars"), remakes of old shows ("90210," "Knight Rider") and remakes of classic literature ("Crusoe" and "My Own Worst Enemy," a Jekyll and Hyde tale). Even the most high-profile offering, J.J. Abrams' "Fringe," seems, at first glance, to be an amalgamation of ideas from shows such as "X-Files" and "Twilight Zone."

Is it time for the broadcast networks, which have given us this buzz-free fall, to exit stage left? Should they cede the tube to more adventurous cable networks? That's what Mark Harris argues in a provocative recent piece in Portfolio.

By surrendering to the relentless niche-ification that the digital age has brought, cable networks, which identify and pursue specific slices of the TV audience, are operating at an advantage, Harris argues.

"Broadcast networks want everyone," Harris writes. "And the business of wanting everyone has never been worse."

Before we plan the memorial service for the broadcast networks, I'd like to point out two things.

First, cable networks are not infallible. On Monday, TNT debuts a tepid legal drama, "Raising the Bar." Its creator, Steven Bochco ("L.A. Law," "Hill Street Blues"), helped rewrite the network-TV playbook with his earlier series. Trouble is, his show feels like a broadcast-network legal drama from the '90s, not like "The Closer," TNT's most successful show.

Second, I have three words for Harris: The "Lost" pilot. What cable network would have spent more than $10 million on that, as ABC did. Perhaps "Lost's" success is an anomaly, but that was one attempt to woo "everyone" that worked out OK.

Much as it pains me (the memory of "Viva Laughlin" lingers), I come not to bury the broadcast networks, but to praise them.

Cable is indeed having a well-deserved moment in the sun -- the returns of "The Shield" on FX and "Dexter" on Showtime are the most anticipated September events in my house. But the game is more fun when all teams are giving their best.

As long as the broadcast networks are around, they're going to be giving people money to make TV shows. Many resulting programs will be bad, but every year there are gems.

So is there a treasure to be found in this year's muddled mixture? That remains to be seen.

Stay tuned.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.