‘I’ ON CULTURE
As the networks prepare a new season of television for us, our home screens are filled with constant previews. Most of them get boring after the first few times; a few require a hundred views. If this season holds true to form, most of the shows will not last. Some won’t make it to Christmas; others will sort of wind themselves down.
The problem for even the successful series is that in far too many cases, the series burn out really fast. CBS has done wonderfully well because it serves up so many police-style shows. It’s not hard to create fascinating crimes; just watch the news shows and make a couple of changes. All you have to do is have one interesting star and some supporting people to bounce off and you could run a show for years. Note Mark Harmon on NCIS, Simon Baker on The Mentalist and a half-dozen more. Since the stars essentially stay the same, supporting casts can adapt or even change and it makes little difference. Law & Order was the ideal form for this; it ran for 20 years with regular cast changes. I don’t think anyone on screen stayed throughout.
That’s what a lot of other shows have to face. Many of them are forced to change, and often the changes don’t become them. The new season of Glee just began, and it looks very different from the original. During the first year, when the show became a cultural phenomenon, it was about a group of sweet losers from a small-town high school who just wanted to sing. It was the little show that could. Now, the single piano accompanist, possibly joined by one or two other instrumentalists, has given way to full orchestras.
Although the lead “kids” (a couple of them look more than a bit mature, to say the least) sometimes dance alone, more often than not these days they’re joined by a group of obviously professional dancers. And more of the guests are clearly adult professionals. In the first episode of this year, Kate Hudson did a sizzling dance number with other adults, to impress her adult students in New York. Now the show has grown so large it’s not only in Lima, Ohio, but in New York. Reports say that many of the graduates will be shown in their new environments. The new cast members fill a variety of stereotypes. No one is allowed to be just a normal kid. Most of the things that I and a lot of others liked in the first year, particularly the unpretentiousness, are long gone. It is the anti-Glee and no longer appointment television.
The soaps are the biggest victim of this. They have to keep moving at a feverish pace. A show like Grey’s Anatomy demonstrates this perfectly. After first making certain that most of the characters have slept with a minimum of two or three people, that path became boring. So they began to kill off cast members. First by cancer, then by a crazed killer, and finally, at the end of last season, in a plane crash that killed the most likable character on the series. After all, where’s the drama in someone deciding they’d rather work someplace else? It did happen once so they could do a spin-off. But there’s no place for the show to go. What’s left? Having a doctor fall in love with a lab animal?
Even on the police shows, the push for change is evident. One of my favorites, Castle, has featured sexual tension between the two leads for years. In the last minute of the past season, they finally, shall we say, “released that tension.” Will the show stay the same? That can get tricky. On Bones, once Brennan and Booth got together, episodes began focusing on her pregnancy and new baby almost as much as the crime-fighting part. I still like the show, but it is a different one.
Of course, the real problem is that TV uses up shows very quickly. When you can’t bring up a new criminal each week, you have to look at the characters, and they can’t be more boring than the people on “reality” shows. It becomes difficult to catch up when the average characters change lovers more often than they change their underwear.
But we tolerate it because it’s better than watching the Kardashians or the “Real Housewives” of wherever. Which defines the problem better than anything else.