Monday, May 03, 2004

The Tube Looks Into You
It's May sweeps again. In TV jargon, sweeps are a time when ad rates are set for the next several months, so the networks do their best to attract as many viewers as possible. It's why all the season finales and Very Special Episodes are packed into this month, even though the 2003-2004 TV season officially ended last week. Some random notes about the month to come:

I have never watched more than two minutes of Friends, but you'd have to be on Guantanamo not to know that the final episode of the series airs this week. Series finales aren't what they used to be because there are so many more channels than back in the day--less than half the number of people who watched the M*A*S*H finale in 1983 will watch Friends on Thursday. Friends fans have high hopes for this fall's spinoff/sequel starring Matt LeBlanc, but keep one thing in mind: AfterM*A*S*H. It seemed like a can't-miss idea, too, but was one of the most high-profile failures in television history.

Fox's 24 is racing toward its season finale later this month. This year's story, about a biological terror attack, has been riveting--although last week's episode featured a twist that could, if not adequately explained in this week's episode, be the moment at which Season 3 jumped the shark. Much of the fun of 24 comes from its creative high-wire act--the producers freely acknowledge that they don't always know where it's going as it unfolds. But 24 is also the scariest thing on TV, partly from the suspense, but also partly because it makes you look into the abyss that holds the darkest secrets of human nature. And as Nietsche observed, when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

ABC's NYPD Blue wraps up its 11th season this month. Nobody pays much attention to the show anymore--its days as a groundbreaker on TV are far in the past. But right now, the series is as creatively hot as it has ever been, with a story arc about an 18-year-old murder case that's as complete a mystery story as the show has ever told. But Blue's greatest achievement might be that you can watch it for a while and forget that Detective John Clark is played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who was one of the Saved by the Bell kids.

But all is not well in my TV world. I have loved The West Wing from the start, but this season has been a tough one to watch. I had great hope for the show's continued success under new executive producer John Wells, who took the reins from series creator Aaron Sorkin and producer/director Thomas Schlamme, and the first few episodes lived up to my hope. But recently, the show has slipped badly. Wells, in his attempt to bring a little more bipartisanship to the show, has turned the Bartlet Administration into a mushy bunch who seem like nothing so much as liberals who are going through a 12-step deprogramming. The recent episode "Talking Points," about trade negotiations, was almost incomprehensible both as politics and as drama--and I know a little about both. Average viewers must have bailed out in droves, and likely before the first commercial break.

What's equally annoying about The West Wing is NBC's infrequent scheduling of the show. It's almost never on--preempted again this week for what is ostensibly an edition of Dateline NBC, but what is in fact a program-length promo for the Friends finale the following night. If the show were still seen as one of the jewels in NBC's crown, it wouldn't be treated this way. Although it's in no danger of cancellation after this season--if we have to cancel one president in 2004, let it be George W. Bush rather than Jed Bartlet--nobody should be surprised if the show is on the ropes a year from now.

Whoops, gotta go. Seinfeld is on.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?