The Guest Star Did It

I hate to sound like everyone else, but television is boring. Soporific put-me-to-sleep dull. There used to be a few shows each night we followed, but so many have been taken off the air or deteriorated to unwatchability there remain but a few. Every year, we start the fall season hopeful there will be something worth watching. Perhaps a couple of interesting series, maybe a comedy. If we are lucky, the powers-that-be won’t have retired the few shows we watch that have survived several seasons.

Killing Harry’s Law for the sin of appealing to the wrong demographic (namely us) was a blow to the heart. We have since realized that killing that show was part of NBC’s master plan to destroy the network. They are doing a splendid job. For the first time, NBC has come in fifth in the ratings after Spanish-language Univision. I think the only NBC shows we still watch are Leno (which they will probably kill because we enjoy it) and occasionally Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit which we view erratically. It’s more a desperation move when everything is in reruns. It too is probably a rerun, but we haven’t seen it, so it’s new to us.

It’s not impossible to write new material, but it takes an effort. Originality is nearly extinct. I’m shocked when I don’t know what’s going to happen next or who did what. It’s a rare treat to be surprised by a script.

NCIS: Shumate

The other night, Garry commented that whatever it was — a new show and no, I do not remember the name — we’d seen it before. Being as this was a premier, you would think they might consider writing an original script for it. You would be wrong.

“We’ve seen everything before,” I said.

“We’re old,” he said.

“We may be old, but that’s not the problem. New shows are identical to the old shows. I think they ARE the old shows. They reuse scripts, just change a couple of names and places. We need to get our heads right. Stop expecting originality and try to appreciate whether or not they do the same old stuff well.”

“It would save us from disappointment.”

“Yup. We need to align our expectations with reality.”

“Yeah. Lower our entertainment requirements. Uh, how much more can we lower them? They’re pretty much at the bottom already.” And so they are.

There are still a few shows we really enjoy. NCIS, long may it reign, we watch both the new shows and reruns. It’s our entertainment fallback position.

We watch White Collar. It wins a prize for being the only cop show that doesn’t only solve murders. The show deals with crimes in which no one got killed! What creative genius thought of that?

Elementary has been  pleasantly unpredictable and has, in return, won our loyalty.

Anger Management is actually funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. Wow. A funny comedy! A startling idea I thought the networks had abandoned in favor of reality shows. It has been a long time since a sitcom was anything other than insipid and insulting to what’s left of our so-called intelligence.

Our Friday night fix is Blue BloodsTom Selleck alone is worth your time. There are a couple of other shows that occasionally aren’t completely predictable (I can’t think of them off-hand which probably speaks volumes), but for the most part, we know what’s going to happen on any show from the opening scene. The credits are enough to give away the story most of the time. The guest star did it. Why else would he or she be on the show?

It’s not impossible to write original material, but it does require a willingness to make an effort at original thought and a committment from networks to let a show stay on the air long enough to develop an audience. A lot of the shows that have become long-term favorites — like NCIS — took several seasons to find an audience. Had MASH come on the air today, it wouldn’t have lasted a single season. They’d have pulled it for not being an instant hit.


Of the top 20 shows that are series, not specials, we watch four series regularly: NCIS, Blue Bloods, Elementary and Criminal Minds. We watch Person of Interest most of the time and Vegas sometimes. That is six of the top 20. The rest of the “top rated shows” we don’t watch at all. This doesn’t bother the networks because we are not part of the sought-after 18 to 45 demographic. So even when, as happened with Harry’s Law, a show is a hit with our group, it gets taken off the air anyway because we don’t count. If we didn’t watch Leno, I’d have boycotted NBC, but they don’t need our help. They’re self-destructing just fine.

Requiring every show to be a sure thing, to be a hit in fewer than half a dozen shows, kills any hope of creativity. An unwillingness to take chances has so completely taken over the entertainment industry I can only wonder if they will bother to produce new shows a few years from now. They can go to all reruns all the time. It would save a great deal of money and it’s entirely about the bottom line, is it not? Whether or not viewers enjoy shows apparently has little to do with programming.

Not merely are producers boring viewers into a stupor, but networks are making themselves irrelevant. How come any average person can see what’s going on but network executives seem oblivious? It is difficult to fathom.

Ultimately, we will stop trying to make sense of it and seek entertainment elsewhere. We are doing that, for the most part, anyhow. We watch more reruns than new shows. We watch more movies than series. We don’t rely on offerings by any of the networks, though when they give us something to watch, we do give it a whirl. But they aren’t trying to keep our loyalty. They’ve made it clear they don’t care about us, so it’s hard to care about them.

There are many more entertainment choices today than were available even a year or two ago. Even more options will be available soon. If ever an industry seemed hell-bent on suicide, network television is it.

Categories: Entertainment, Media, Movies, Publishing, Reviews, Show Business, Television, Video, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. We watch one of the Top 20: NCIS. I occasionally watch Dance with the Stars but am by no means an avid follower. I just like to watch the dancing. You can tell we are not much into the TV. Like you, there just aren’t many programs of interest any more. Rather watch a rerun of NCIS that perhaps I have seen a dozen times that some of the new shows.


    • Just like us! I feel very disenfranchised by television in general and by the networks in particular. They have decided we don’t count. But more to the point, exactly who ARE they programming for? I don’t know anyone who is particularly happy about most of the stuff that’s on the air. I’m not sure they still remember that their franchise is to provide us with entertainment and information, not to make the most possible money per advertising minute. They have truly lost their mission and everyone is a loser.


  2. To be fair, I know there are other shows out there that are critically acclaimed. Shows like MADMEN, BREAKING BAD, HOMELAND, etc. We just haven’t gotten into them for one reason or another. Then there’s “DOWNTON ABBEY” which we will have to play catch up on because we didn’t watch from the beginning. At this point in life, I just want to be entertained. I’ve seen enough hard core life during my professional days to last two lifetimes. So excuse me (or, don’t excuse me) if I prefer old classic movies, westerns and vintage TV shows that make me smile. Mix in some of the PBS stuff like “American Experience” and “American Masters” and I’m a happy guy. I have a bunch of books at my beck and call to read at a slower pace these days. And, I still read the REAL newspapers — first for sports (I’ll alwlays be a baseball fan) and then to catch up on OP ED, Obits (a must to see if a celeb has passed, if I’m there and if so, whether or not my name is spelled correctly). A quick scan of the news that’s not fit to print. I’m even following a little Network News right now because I’m curious yellow about the Vatican Shuffle. I get a little irritated with folks who just complain about what’s available because you have to search for goodies if you want to be entertained. TV, Books, etc. I preached the same sermon when I was working and people complained about the quality of TV News. I told them I read **EVERYTHING** I could find. They were stunned. They said they just watched one channel and it was *our* job to keep them informed. They didn’t have time to read. Never did. And, that’s the way is, Sunday, March 3rd, 2013.


    • I gather you have forgiven the Red Sox and are back on board? That’s good. I hate it when you and the Sox are at odds. As for me, mostly, I read and watch whatever you’ve recorded. Just the ever-dutiful wife. As for reading REAL newspapers, are the ones online fake? Just wondering. I mean, you read on the Kindle … so are those books fake? I always wonder if it’s the paper that matters or the content. Everytime I hear this, I think how weird it is that people put so much emphasis on the form rather than the writing. I should think it would be the other way around. As for other people complaining, we ALL complain. We don’t have a lot of rights left, but I think there’s something in the constitution that gives us the right to complain. If there isn’t, there should be an amendment that permanently gives us complaining rights. If we can’t fix things the way we want, at least we should be allowed to bitch. Meanwhile, we have a huge cable package and more choices than most people. Color us lucky.


  3. We watch lots of movies. Old movies. Garry normally watches lots of sports but our teams are a mess, so to keep from getting too frustrated, he’s taking a break from our teams. We also watch reruns. MASH, Cheers, and of course misc cop shows etc. But movies are the saving grace of cable. Each year there is less worth bothering with. It’s been steadily downhill for years.


  4. We’ve basically stopped watching TV. John will watch sports, and I will watch old movies, preferably in black-and-white, but that’s about it. Dish Network’s Hopper system makes TV tolerable because we don’t have to watch commercials unless we (gag, choke, spit!) want to, but eccchh.


  5. whatza matta … don’t u like zombies?
    shows about zombies … for zombies.
    football is the only show i watch on that list. i’m waiting for Game of Thrones to start again … seems like it’s taking one hell of a long time.


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