WASHINGTON, April 2, 2013―A quick glance at tonight’s schedule confirms what most of us already knew: major network TV is suffering from a serious case of “lack of imagination-itis.” Four competitive reality shows in one night? Seriously?
Offering up a dreary bunch of essentially talentless woulda-been, coulda-been and wannabe celebrities is just more evidence that the net-heads would rather bore us with over-hyped nonsense than tell us a good story.
This past Sunday night, cable TV aired three shows that did tell good stories, and the resulting exodus (God forgive me) from the major networks was massive. “The Bible,” “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” pulled almost 30 million viewers from the Big Four. The only serious competition coming from any major network was latest round of NCAA playoffs on CBS. Eliminate that, and “The Bible” and “The Walking Dead” would have topped any major network broadcast.
The top rated show on network TV both Tuesday night and overall is the venerable “NCIS,” a consistently well written and well acted show that spins a good yarn week in and week out.
With regard to fielding a likeable family of characters, this show also scores a metaphorical bullseye. From Mark Harmon’s Gibbs—who somehow manages to channel the quintessential ex-U.S. Marine to absolute perfection—to Pauley Perrette’s weirdly endearing, combat-booted Abby Sciuto, “NCIS” boasts the most outright appealing cast of brilliant professional colleagues since the original “Star Trek” first aired decades ago.
There’s a valuable lesson here if someone would just wake up our obscenely overpaid net-heads and slap them with these numbers before pink-slipping them and challenging them to find a real job “for family reasons.” TV audiences want to be told a good story to escape the demands of their daily lives, if only for an hour or two. That’s what movies used to do for folks in the Great Depression 1930s, a time, sadly, not dissimilar to our own times for many today.
Yet aside from NCIS and its LA twin (and perhaps a third spinoff next season), and maybe a couple more TV dramas like the always surprising “Person of Interest,” things generally go rapidly downhill on the struggling networks for the rest of the week after LL Cool J pops his final, pithy one-liner on NCIS-LA.
Meanwhile, reality shows proliferate, even though promoting overinflated egos in love with the sound of their own voices is never the viewer’s first choice if a good scripted show happens to be the competition on cable. Wasting valuable viewing hours on contrived dramas labeled “reality” and dreamed up by unimaginative producers and cynical directors becomes a distinct second choice any time it’s unlucky enough to be pitted against better storytelling.
A recent post on this general topic by one of our readers came up with might just be the best new reality show idea ever. He suggested it be called “Last Producer Standing.” All reality show producers are gathered in a secluded location “Survivor” style, and elimination is determined via hyped up weekly challenges.
This is where it gets good. Or, as those ubiquitous TV pitchmen might say: “But wait! There’s more!”
Those producers eliminated every week leave the show in a body bag. As a final “gotcha,” the winner’s prize is the best surprise: a live execution on the big end-of-season finale. Not only would I watch a reality show like this. I would host weekly viewing parties, featuring non-stop snark-athons while ginning up some great drinking games for my guests.
The ratings for a show like this would be off the chart. But the real winners would be the battered and beleaguered TV audience. With no more reality show producers around, the networks would be forced to go back to the formula that made them major networks to begin with: (all together now) Telling a good story.
Until the overpaid media buffoons actually figure this out, expect good shows on cable to continue to whip them in the ratings. We can only hope “Last Producer Standing” gets made very soon. Meanwhile, a hat tip to our reader Charles for the best reality show idea ever!
All times are EDT:
ABC: Splash: (New) The eight remaining celebrities pair up for partner dives; a contestant from the bottom-scoring duo is eliminated.
CBS: NCIS: (Repeat) A car accident involving a marine is investigated, and the probe causes Abby to recall some troubling memories from her very first case.
FOX: Hell’s Kitchen: (New) It’s a wake up call to remember as these chefs are making breakfast for doctors and nurses.
NBC: The Voice: (New) The blind auditions hit full stride as Blake, Adam, Shakira and Usher pursue the performers who could win it all.
CW: Hart of Dixie: (Repeat) George’s folks visit and meet Tansy, sparking his mom to mastermind a plan involving Zoe and her son. Meanwhile, Lemon uncovers Brick’s hidden romance; and AnnaBeth is charmed by a British traveler, but Lavon has doubts about this outsider.
PBS: History Detectives: (New) A Kit Carson biography that may have belonged to his family members; a saddle linked to Hollywood stuntman Yakima Canutt; “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” sheet music with a curious inscription.
ABC: Dancing With The Stars: (Live) Demi Lovato and Huey Lewis and the News perform; one couple is eliminated.
CBS: NCIS: Los Angeles: (Repeat) Part 1 of 2. A CIA agent who once worked with Sam is found dead of an apparent suicide, but Sam suspects foul play.
FOX: New Girl: (Repeat) Nick and Schmidt are both attracted to the same beautiful woman during a guys’ night out. Elsewhere, Winston falls for a girl, but she doesn’t return his affections; and Jess’ evening involves a round of the drinking game True American and a new development in her relationship with one of her roommates.
NBC: The New Normal: (New) The guys’ relationship is tested when they try to name their newborn. Bryan’s arriving mother only adds to the conflict and leads to an unusual resolution. Elsewhere, Clay mulls over revealing his true feelings to Goldie after he receives advice from Brice.
CW: Beauty and the Beast: (Repeat) Cat reveals secrets to Tess; Evan’s opinion of Cat changes.
PBS: Kind Hearted Woman: (New) Conclusion. An Oglala Sioux woman strives to build a better life for herself while battling her ex-husband for custody of their two children, completing her college education and dealing with the repercussions of having been sexually abused as a child.
FOX: The Mindy Project: (New) Mindy goes to church when she dates a minister, who has to confess that he thinks she’s selfish, so she goes along when the practice sponsors a volunteer outing at a women’s prison.
NBC: The New Normal: (New) The big wedding day arrives in the Season 1 finale. Here, Bryan and David hope to tie the knot before the arrival of their baby.
ABC: Body of Proof: (New) During a murder investigation, a woman bites Tommy; Megan turns to the new health commissioner for help uncovering the truth behind strange rabies cases.
CBS: Golden Boy: (New) McKenzie catches a break in a case that’s near and dear to her heart when bullets found at the scene of a subway shooting match those used to kill her brother several years ago. Meanwhile, Owen begins to have second thoughts about his impending retirement.
NBC: Smash: (New) Ivy’s mom joins the “Bombshell” cast; a visit from Karen’s dad causes tension at “Hit List.” Jesse L. Martin, Leslie Odom, Jr., Bernadette Peters and Jamey Sheridan guest star.
New episodes of:
Monsters and Mysteries in America at 8 and 9 p.m. on DSC
Income Property at 9 p.m. on HGTV
Top Gear at 9 p.m. on History Channel
Dance Moms at 9 p.m. on LIFE
19 Kids and Counting at 9 p.m. on TLC
Hardcore Pawn at 9 p.m. on truTV
Storage Hunters at 9:30 p.m. on truTV
Justified at 10 p.m. on FX
Apocalypse 101 at 9 and 10 p.m. on NGC
The Millionaire Matchmaker at 10 p.m. on BRAVO
Chopped at 10 p.m. on Food Channel
Snooki and JWwow at 10 p.m. on MTV
Robot Combat League at 10 p.m. on Syfy
Cougar Town at 10 p.m. on TNT
For movie lovers:
The Marine on AMC
Basic Instinct on ENC
My Left Foot on FLIX
Tower Heist on HBO
Gangs of New York on IFC
The Natural on REELZ
Red on SHO
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on SUND
Strangers on a Train on TCM
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector on BBC
Meet Dave on FMC
Beginners on HBO
Hanna on MOMAX
John Carter on STARZ
Die Another Day at 9:35 p.m. TMC
Marked for Death at 10 p.m. on AMC
End of Days at 10 p.m. on CINEMAX
The Apostle at 10 p.m. on FLIX
Cool Hand Luke at 10 p.m. on TCM
The Temp at 10:10 p.m. on ENC
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