TOO GOOD FOR THE LIKES OF YOU: The Television Critics Association convention in Pasadena, Calif., is winding down, and instead of happily complaining about the substandard fare on the fall network schedules, the massed hacks are worried that the new shows are simply too good.
“After years of bitching about the death of the sitcom and staged ‘reality’ shows,” wrote Variety in a weekend roundup, “the scribe tribe now frets TV this fall may be too good for its own good.”
It seems that years of critical praise and decent ratings for shows like Prison Break, Lost and 24 have inspired the networks to move away from police procedurals that tie up their storylines before the credits roll, and put into production a crop of ambitious “serials” — shows with season-long storylines and cliffhanger endings. It’s the sort of thing that critics have agitated for, but now they’re overcome with anxiety and dread.
“Of course, there’s a flip side to this unexpected bumper crop,” wrote Albany Time-Union TV critic Marc McGuire. “A lot of these good shows are going to receive quick, ignoble deaths by ratings.”
Shows like Kidnapped and Vanished, Big Day, Notes From The Underbelly, The Nine and Ugly Betty are going to have to compete with the returning serials that encouraged the trend, and the assembled critics are apparently already in mourning for what they see as the imminent cancellation of shows that still haven’t even hit the air.
“I don’t know that people are necessarily going to have time to watch them all,” fretted Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger.
“All these serial shows on top of Prison Break and 24 and Lost?” worried McGuire. “I don’t have that kind of time, and I’m paid to watch TV.”
But things got weird at a bizarre press event with CBS’ Nina Tassler, the programming chief of the network who, until now, insisted that they preferred procedurals, with their tidy endings, over serials. The indispensable Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post described the down-the-rabbit-hole logic of Tassler’s Saturday press conference, which began with the executive stating than fans are obliged to watch their favourite serialized shows, or else they can’t complain when they’re dropped from the schedule.
“Smiling Her Bright Smile” as de Moraes characterized Tassler’s chipper façade, she said that a network like CBS can’t be held accountable for pulling a show before it resolves its storyline, stranding viewers who obviously, the executive inferred, couldn’t really be bothered. With new media platforms like the Internet, however, a network could — if they wanted — give fans the closure they need.
“When you build that kind of loyalty and you have an audience with legitimate questions about resolution,” said Tassler, “it behooves us to find a way to provide those answers.”
Smelling blood, the TV hacks closed in, demanding to know the fate of Tuesday Night Book Club, Love Monkey and George And Leo, before Tassler disappeared in a bright ball of light.