Show Success 101

November sweeps is upon us, and the new shows that haven’t already been cancelled now have to really show their worth.  Over the past few years critics have bemoaned the fact that network television just cannot compare to the brilliance of cable shows. The simple reason for this uneven playing field all goes back to money. Network stations rely so heavily on advertisers that that can’t afford the risk of offending anyone or being too “out there”. Shows like Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland, True Blood etc. have all suffered creative missteps, and yes they have much more violence and sex, but more importantly the focus is on the story, not the production decisions.

So often good shows let the promise of media hype, celebrity guest stars and ratings-grabbing musical episodes ruin the story all for the sake of more money. The first show that comes to mind is Glee.  Ryan Murphy let this show fall so far because rather than focusing on character development and continuity, he worried about how to fit Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson into the show. He built the show around catchy headlines and one-episode shockers. He and his team left viewers confused and frustrated because he took what was once a lovable group of kids and teachers and turned them into cartoon characters.

Each new season when pilots are rolled out for the networks I am baffled by how any executive thinks they’ll actually work. You can’t just combine hype-worthy plotlines and hope for the best. Just because The Avengers doesn’t mean there show be a Marvel show. Just because fairy tales are trendy doesn’t mean Ichabod Crane needs to be a leading man. Just because Sean Hayes is a great, funny guy doesn’t mean he deserves his own show. When the only selling point of a show is the pitch, it won’t work. The writing has to be creative, the idea has to be fresh (or at least a new take on it) and the focus has to be on characters, not on hype.

The only new show I enjoy this season is Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I wasn’t expecting much from the Fox comedy (Andy Samberg seems more of a sketch artist that a sitcom lead) but I was pleasantly surprised. There are so many cop shows on TV but almost all of them are dramas. The cast is really hilarious and the dynamic between Samberg’s immature but successful cop and Andre Braugher’s tough commanding officer is fun to watch. The supporting characters are already very well-defined because of the great writing. It feels like the early years of The Office. Of course, it’s too soon to tell if the show will steadily improve, but it has already nabbed the post-Superbowl slot. It’ll probably never win an Emmy, but at least it proves networks can do something right.

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