Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Troubles at The Peacock Network


Bobbie L. Washington

As humans, we fall down, pick ourselves up and brush ourselves off. And if there are any abrasions, place the proper bandage on the knees. This cannot be said at NBC. There has been a falling down of late with plenty of abrasions and little healing. The latest abrasion was the cancellation of the drama series, Southland. What made this cancellation stand out from other cancellation was the manner in which it was dropped, while still in production and never returning to air. And the reasoning behind this was that it was “too dark and gritty” in the real estate next to Jay Leno. Apparently, the powers that be felt that the content and graphic nature of Southland would conflict with Jay’s show.

Southland was in the makings of becoming one of the better police dramas in television history. By comparison, it had the same tenor as another NBC series, Homicide: Life on the Street. That show, from this point of view, had ugly people in it. No pretty boys or girls to become pinups posters just gritty realism in the Baltimore Police Department. It did not get great ratings but it did get accolades and a variety awards for the quality of writing and acting. It did not follow the formulaic center of your typical cop shows that resolved itself in a neat bow. It ended after seven seasons. It was a different era as the landscape of network television has been restructured for the worse. And NBC is struggling to figure out what to do and part of the problem is what they have decided to program, let’s take a look at what they’ve offered up.

Trauma, a one-hour drama about some emergency medical workers and their personal lives is not a ratings blockbuster. It began with a dramatic helicopter rescue scene on the rooftop of a skyscraper that leads to a midair crash with another helicopter. Fast-forward a year or so later and the survivors of the crash are dealing with the aftermath of the incident. There is scene on a highway where a man is recklessly driving while texting on his phone. In the immortal words of Johnny Carson, “if you buy the premise, you buy the bit”. The premise wasn’t bought when you see the scene unfold. It was reminiscent of the olds Chips TV series where you had these staged accidents on an abandon stretch of highway. The texting driver passes a tanker rig to telegraph the fact that it will be part of the accident. When the accident begins, the pileup begins and the tanker rig, that had plenty of time to stop, is struck in the middle causing fuel to leak out. Of course there is no drama or emotional dread with this scene. It is as phony and unrealistic and an insult to the viewer. To the rescue comes the team by land and by air. The survivors from the rooftop helicopter disaster are there. The helicopter pilot is cocky and arrogant. He does not need to be because it is a vehicle that doesn’t make any sense along with the rest of the behavior of the cast.

Mercy, another one-hour drama set in a hospital about an Iraqi war veteran who has a hard time coping with civilian life after returning from her tour of duty. She is gruff, she has a hard edge and she is suffering from posttraumatic distress disorder and she is constantly angry with her superiors. You would think Saturday Night Live would be doing a bit on this. The rest of the cast is rounded off with the usual suspect but does not lend itself to any one person having any stand out appeal.

On NBC’s returning shows, Heroes is still in decline. The magic is gone from the show after the honeymoon season. It’s like New Coke versus Old Coke. What happened to the formula? There seems to be no progressive development with the characters. Hiro, the time shifting mutant, is by far the most disappointing in character development. He has regressed after having such a dramatic beginning and he seems not have learned from his experience. He ended with a purpose as he wielded a sword in the battle with Sylar. But in the past season and now, he’s not interesting anymore. It is as if none of the life threatening events had left a stronger impact on him. He still was this na├»ve person in last season that took every person’s word as face value even after being duped many times over. This was an annoyance to many of the followers of Hiro. And the cheerleader has no focus either. What happened to some of the most interesting of mutants from the first season? There is no enemy or perilous conflict that would invite the audience to care. NBC has tinkered it into blandness. The fans of this show have left in large numbers. I had hopes for this show to come by stronger than last year but it has not been the case.

NBC has replaced five-hours of dramatic television with a two-year commitment with Jay Leno. Many producers and writers were not happy to put it nicely. If the economy wasn’t bad enough for Hollywood, the Jay Leno show displaced many actors, hair and makeup people, set dressers, extras, all of the below the line production people out of work. And this drop in the economic pond had the ripple effect on other industries that were dependant on these production jobs in various locales. The decision makers at 30 Rock made the call and the bleeding is not letting up. Why was it necessary to give up five hours to Jay? Southland was a good show that ended on a decent cliffhanger. Will the viewers get to see the six episodes already finished? No. Would it have been simpler for NBC to give up at least one night for this type of drama and let Jay have four nights?

NBC was boldly taunting the competition by making the claims that Jay was winning his timeslot before any other the other networks premiered their shows. And NBC also boasted that Conan was beating its competition by claiming him the new king of late night. After two weeks into the new TV season, those claims were being eaten with bad pie by NBC. You can’t fool the viewing public so easily with smoke and mirrors as this disaster of programming continues. By placing Jay in that timeslot, other shows in that former position are suffering as well. The Law and Order series has moved up by one or two hours depending on which one you watch. That show has some dark and gritty moments as well. Do you cancel them as well, NBC? And you forced Medium off the network but they were fortunate enough to land on CBS with better results.

NBC has promised its advertisers that Jay Leno will make money because its will run in the off-season while other shows are in repeat. Well, that type of logic is working in a vacuum. The summer months have become the new season to give new shows a first time look. There have been summer shows that have fared well in those times and if NBC thinks that Jay will have an easier time during that time, they are underestimating the other networks. NBC has also underestimated its audience, totally dissatisfied with what they are getting and is wondering what has happen to the network that Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff turned into “Must See TV”.

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