Thursday, September 13, 2012

Simply Stated The Fall 2012 TV Season Sucks

There are reasons why each TV fall season seems weaker than the one before.
First of all there's the inevitable decline in viewers as more and more people switch over to cable TV. Some simply tune out altogether.
Let's do the stats first.
In 1963 CBS's Beverly Hillbillies was the Number One rated series in the U.S. with a 36 share and a weekly average of up to 60 million viewers.
Last season CBS' Medium managed 12 million on a good week.
In 1971 CBS cancelled a sitcom The Governor And J.J. with a 27 share --which no series on TV has managed in the past decade. CBS set the bar that year on a 29 share.
As the network popularity declined so did the quality of their new series as networks had less money to toss into series development.
And at the same time American cable TV shows got a whole lot better.
On this weekend's Emmy awards consider the candidates for best dramatic series actor: Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Damian Lewis (Homeland).
That makes five nominations for cable, one for PBS and zilch for the traditional Big Five (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and CW).
When it comes to the fall TV fare I'm not hearing much excitement from friends and neighbors.
And after sitting through most of the new series I can truthfully report it's a bad case of been there, done that.
In fact when most people talk to me about the new TV season it's to wonder out loud about what will happen on their returning favorites from The Mentalist to The Good wife to Blue Bloods.
As usual the networks aren't sure what will be the next breakout hit.
Last season Global's Barb Williams cheerfully and disastrously predicted that honor would go to the NBC reboot of Prime Suspect which spectacularly burned and crashed in the ratings and got cancelled before season's end.
CTV's money was on Pan Am which it thought had the reto classiness to become another Mad Men. It didn't happened and Pan Am has been permanently grounded.
Only a few new shows have what it takes to go all the way, I'm afraid to say.
I really like CBS's new take on Sherlock Holmes titled Elementary. (Thursdays at 10 p.m.).  Sure, I know there's a British version already out there with Benedict Cumberpatch.
But CBS's uses Jonny Lee Miller as a modern and thoroughly neurotic Holmes with Lucy Liu as his shrink named Watson. The pilot was funny and impudent. Yes, it is a CBS procedural but hardly a standard one.
Also on CBS is Vegas. (Tuesdays at 10).  No, it's not that pretty standard Vegasy think we've already seen in shows starring Bob Urch or Josh Duhamel.
This one is set in the late 1950s as the desert community welcomed crime and gambling. Starring as a modern day Matt Dillon is Dennis Quaid and he's arraigned against gangland boss Michael Chilkis. The screenplay is by Nicholas Pileggi (GoodFellas) and the recreation of Vegas at another era is immaculate. Keep your eye on it.
The Mob Doctor (Mondays at 10 on FOX) might yet make it. The pilot was all over the place but Jordana Spiro as a new doctor who is in debt to the Chicago mob is a winner and, yes, it's based on a real case study. I just wish they'd ditch the confusing dream sequences, car chases and get down to the tensions inherent in the plot.
I think Arrow (Wednesdays at 8 on CW) might be a hit because it's a sleek redesign of Green Arrow, has a certain sense of style and stars Toronto's Stephen Amell --it'll be made in Vancouver  and might benefit from the terrific scenery out there.
And then there's 666 Park Avenue (Sundays at 10 on ABC). It obviously wouldn't be around without last year's big cable hit Horror Story. It also owes a lot to Rosemary's Baby and looks at the inner workings of a creepy Manhattan apartment. Starring are Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa Williams. I found it suitably creepy.
Of course quality is not the biggest reason for a series hit.
It's time slot. In 1978 one of the finest ever TV series Paper Chase went down to defeat when CBS ran it against Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley.
It's always been that way on TV. Remember Wyatt Earp once crushed Playhouse 90. Or more recently
1991's I'll Fly Away went down against Rescue 911.
The difference is back in the old 10-channel universe we had few options. Today dozens of cable channels beckon.
Hence my feeling the fall TV season isn't at all what it used to be.

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