Monday, May 30, 2011

Scripted TV: thriving and mostly healthy

As I noted at the end of last May, all my fears back in 2007 during the Screenwriters Guild strike that the number of scripted TV would seriously decline were wasted.

During the Summer TV Season of 2011, I am already recording or will record 46 scripted series shows: “Against the Wall”, “Alphas”, “Army Wives”, “The Big C”, “Breaking Bad”, “Breakout Kings”, “Burn Notice”, “The Closer”, “Combat Hospital”, “Covert Affairs”, “Eureka”, “Falling Skies”, “Flashpoint”, “Franklin & Bash”, “Friday Night Dinner”, “Friends with Benefits”, “Game of Thrones”, “The Glades”, “Haven”, “Hawthorne”, “Hour”, “In Plain Sight”, “The Killing”, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”, “Leverage”, “Louie”, “Love Bites”, “Memphis Beat”, “Men of a Certain Age”, “Necessary Roughness”, “Outcasts”, “Primeval”, “The Protector”, “Rescue Me”, “Rizzoli & Isles”, “Rookie Blue”, “Royal Pains”, “Sanctuary”, “Suits”, “Torchwood”, “Treme”, “True Blood”, “Warehouse 13", “Weeds”, “White Collar”, and “Wilfred”.

At the beginning of the Fall/Winter TV Season of 2011-12, I expect to be recording episodes of 70 shows: “Bedlam”, “The Big Bang Theory”, “Blue Bloods”, “Boardwalk Empire”, “Body of Proof”, “Bones”, “Boss”, “Castle”, “Charlie's Angels”, “Chuck”, “Community”, “Criminal Minds”, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”, “CSI: New York”, “Dexter”, “The Fades”, “Free Agents”, “Fringe”, “A Gifted Man”, “Glee”, “The Good Wife”, “Grey's Anatomy”, “Grimm”, “Happy Endings”, “Harry's Law”, “Hart of Dixie”, “Hawaii Five-0", “Hell on Wheels”, “Homeland”, “House”, “House of Lies”, “How I Met Your Mother”, “How to Be a Gentleman”, “I Hate My Teenage Daughter”, “Last Man Standing”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, “Luck”, “Luther”, “Man Up!”, “The Mentalist”, “The Middle”, “Mike & Molly”, “Modern Family”, “NCIS”, “NCIS: Los Angeles”, “New Girl”, “The Office”, “Once upon a Time”, “Pan Am”, “Parenthood”, “Parks & Recreation”, “Person of Interest”, “The Playboy Club”, “Prime Suspect”, “Private Practice”, “Raising Hope”, “Reed Between the Lines”, “Revenge”, “Ringer”, “Rules of Engagement”, “The Secret Circle”, “Sons of Anarchy”, “Suburgatory”, “Terra Nova”, “The Thick of It”, “Two and a Half Men”, “Two Broke Girls”, “Unforgettable”, “Up All Night,” and “Whitney”.

Obviously, some of these shows will turn out to be awful. And some we will not continue to watch because they just don't appeal to our taste. This is fortunate as time does not permit us to watch all of them.

Few of them are consistently critically acclaimed three-stars-or-more shows. Frequently those shows have trouble finding a large audience. To a certain extent, the premium channels provide a home for artistic quality.

Still I'm amazed at the number on advertising supported broadcast and cable networks that almost always deserve two stars or more.

In some cases, shows that consistently offer decent writing, acting, and directing "wear out their welcome." Fresh episode story ideas are hard to find. As a show ages, avoiding repetitious stories for particular characters becomes difficult. The pressure of economics sometimes requires an extra season or two for syndication sales.

Frequently, new shows on advertising dependant broadcast networks that clearly have strong writing, acting, and directing are cancelled early in the first season because of the ratings system based on the number of live viewers. This is frustrating.

But on the other hand, some of these shows could be moved to a cable channel were it not for the fact that the broadcast networks gave the showrunners a larger budget than could be allowed on a cable channel. Adapting to a significantly reduced budget apparently is not easily accomplished. And the management of a cable channel does not want to risk large sums of money on a show that failed in the broadcast arena.

But overall, for someone who remembers the Summers of Repeats back in the era when we had broadcast networks only, it is amazing how scripted TV has rebounded.