Monday, March 10, 2008

Lipstick, Cashmere, and Rust

Last week "Lipstick Jungle" finished third in total viewers against a rerun of "Without a Trace" at #1 and "Eli Stone" at #2; and essentially tied for second in that 18-49 demographic. The last episode of "Cashmere Mafia" also finished third behind a new "Law & Order" and a rerun of "CSI: NY". It appears that generally the viewers are rejecting these shows.

"Big Shots" has already been canceled by ABC and its "Cashmere Mafia" is still in limbo even though the network has picked up a number of shows. Who knows what NBC will do with "Lipstick Jungle"?

I divide TV drama series into two categories - plot driven and character driven. Plot driven shows have a basic plot and attempt to build characters around it - like the L&O and CSI franchises. Character driven shows begin with characters to be developed. This can't be done without effective use of backstory which can't be done in three episodes unless there is only one primary character. Without backstory, you can't use common plot lines like struggling singles, marriage in trouble, mean competitors, etc., because they seem so trite and make the characters seem shallow. "Cashmere Mafia" and "Lipstick Jungle" have fallen into that trap.

In contrast, "October Road" begins using a strong backstory. (But writer Scott Rosenberg's story does have a true backstory (read here).) The show is slowly developing characters with depth. If it lasts more than two years going in the same direction, it would make a DVD box set drama lovers would like to own. Last week it finished a poor third behind a rerun of "CSI: Miami" and a new "Medium". Tonight is the second season finale. I fear it is the last season.

We own all the seasons of "Northern Exposure" on DVD and love watching them a second time around (despite the fact that Universal failed to obtain the DVD use rights to much of the music used in the show). The salient fact about "Northern Exposure" is that it didn't make it into the top 20 prime time shows until season 3. Character driven shows with multiple characters rarely do. Well-crafted ones used to be given a chance by the networks and viewers.

As a side note, plot driven shows don't automatically do as well as "24" and the two crime fighter franchises mentioned above. "Kidnapped" which NBC dropped after 3 episodes was a strong show. It could have gone on for years had it been scheduled and promoted cleverly.

It is disturbing to see the strong cast members of "Cashmere Mafia", "Lipstick Jungle" and "Big Shots" wasted. It's ironic that of the "rich-and/or-power-players" dramas currently showing, while there is no "gold standard" the CW's "Gossip Girl" might make "shiny copper" while the others barely make "rust".

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