Out of curiosity, I just looked up the overall Nielsen ratings for the '06/'07 television season. I was dismayed to see that over half of the top ten (a total of 8 of the top 20) were reality or game shows. Now, I have no real beef with reality shows. They're the potato chips on the menu of TV programming. I myself enjoy Survivor, to a lesser extent American Idol, and am currently a fan of the beleaguered On the Lot. When I watch these shows, I am aware that it is junk food (though On the Lot DOES contain nuggets of genuine quality entertainment). During American Idol, I often am also reading a magazine, book or web site at the same time, to keep my brain from feeling like vegetation.
I know I watch too much television during the traditional season. I get hooked on the serialized comedies and dramas, with a smattering of reality shows. I felt a great relief this year when the season finales were broadcast, because I could cast off the shackles of the season. When I look at the programming strategies of the networks this summer, I actually feel sadness for what we as Americans have been reduced to. Retread derivative reality shows and game shows all over the place, and they'll probably do well. Pirate Master, Age of Love, Hell's Kitchen, America's Got Talent, The Next Best Thing, American Inventor, Last Comic Standing. . . If Survivor and American Idol are potato chips, these shows are pork rinds. Or maybe fried Twinkies or something.
I feel a sense of injustice when I see quality shows with real potential cancelled, while an insipid, WORTHLESS show like Dancing With the Stars regularly takes two spots in the top 10. I have avoided many shows over the last few years (Invasion, Daybreak, Prison Break, Jericho) primarily because I had a feeling I'd get hooked, only to have them abruptly cancelled. In all but one case I was right. But some shows drew me in anyway, gleaming with great writing, photography, direction, acting. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is the most glittering example.
While it can feel a trifle self-important for a show about sketch comedy, each show has more talent and polish than entire seasons of some other shows. Each script crackles with intelligence and wit. When the show went on hiatus, it was during a time in the season when many other shows did too. When it didn't come back, it was sad, but I accepted it. But now, they are "burning off" the remaining episodes on Thursday nights. I'd forgotten just HOW good it really is. I'm lamenting, nearly mourning the inevitable loss of it.
Another cancelled gem is CBS's The Class. While not on par with Studio 60, this show was stuffed with potential. After a scatter shot (but funny) first half season, this show really drew to a focus, and the cast seemed to gel. By the end, the show felt like the first season of a long-running show. How is it that shows like According to Jim, King of Queens, or Yes, Dear can run for 5, 6 even 8 seemingly identical seasons, and inventive shows like The Class barely make the season?
Out of 142 network prime-time shows, The Class finished 65th and Studio 60 finished 61st. In other words in the top half. Studio 60 didn't even get the benefit of running all of its shows in the season. Shows that ranked lower or about the same? Medium, How I Met Your Mother, The Bachelor, My Name is Earl, The Office, Family Guy, 20/20, The Simpsons, Scrubs and Dateline NBC. These are all returning, well-promoted shows that are often thought of as perennial hits. I just wish "my" shows had gotten the same chance.
REAL REALITY BREAK: As I type this, I am watching This Week with George Stephanopolus. Each week, George runs an "in Memoriam" segment that I always feel compelled as an American to watch. In a typical week, anywhere from 7 or 8, or as many as 12 to 15 service members are listed as deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's so regular, I've actually gotten used to it. This weeks' This Week is different. The graphic with all the names was HUGE, and George just said that there were THIRTY-SEVEN service members killed this week. Dreadful. Will I get used to higher numbers, every week? I sure hope not.