The 2010-11 television season has only just begun and it’s already taking several unexpected twists and turns, resulting in important lessons and interesting observations for all. Here are ten of them.
Prime Time Soaps Need a Strong Female Heroine to Attract an Audience. Why did Fox’s well-produced serial Lone Star so spectacularly crash and burn on the runway? I’d say it’s because everyone involved made the mistake of building its narrative around a dashing young man instead of a beautiful young woman. Strong male characters are essential, but early in the life of successful prime time serials it’s the women who pull the audience in, especially the “good” girls who suddenly find themselves in challenging new environments. Indeed, they are the mandatory points of entry for the female viewers who make up the bulk of the soap audience. I’m referring to Pam (Victoria Principal) on Dallas, Krystle (Linda Evans) on Dynasty, Valene (Joan Van Ark) on Knots Landing, Maggie (Susan Sullivan) on Falcon Crest and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) on Class of Beverly Hills (later Beverly Hills 90210), among others. Of course, strong women who aren’t so “good,” such as Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) on Dallas, Alexis Colby (Joan Collins) on Dynasty, Abby (Donna Mills) on Knots Landing, Brenda after she went “bad” on 90210 and Amanda (Heather Locklear) on Melrose Place, are also critical. Perhaps if Lone Star had put more emphasis on wholesome Lindsay (Eloise Mumford) and vixen Cat (Adrianne Palicki) rather than hunky con man Robert (James Wolk) at the start of its somewhat twisted tale then the new show picked as most promising by most critics might have had a chance. Instead, it shockingly became the first casualty of the 2010-11 season.
Jennifer Aniston is Over-Rated. I can’t recall the last time that Jennifer Aniston successfully opened a feature film, but she sure doesn’t bring much to the television projects of her former Friends co-star and real-life BFF Courteney Cox. Her much-hyped appearance on Cox’s short-lived FX drama Dirt did nothing to help that show, and her guest shot on the season premiere of Cox’s under-appreciated comedy Cougar Town didn’t raise its ratings, either. I was shocked by how spectacularly un-funny Aniston was as a flaky therapist for Cox’s neurotic character. Her comic timing was unsurpassed on Friends. Where did it go?
American Idol is Still in Trouble. Fox confirmed the worst-kept secret in Hollywood ever with the announcement last week that Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez will be joining American Idol to replace the departing Simon Cowell and Kara DioGuardi. I appreciate that the Idol producers want to concentrate on moving forward rather than holding onto the past. But I can’t reconcile the addition of two superstars to the judges table, rather than two authoritative music business professionals who aren’t already giant celebrities and riotously rich. It’s one thing for an aspiring performer to take harsh criticism from an industry professional, the likes of whom he or she will have to impress if they are to succeed in the real world. It’s another to have stars against whom they might eventually compete for consumer support put them down or chase them away. This might be a good time for another network to begin developing a singing competition series that resembles the show American Idol used to be.
Tom Selleck Can Still Draw a Crowd. I thought Blue Bloods would do okay for CBS, but I never imagined it would draw almost 13 million viewers to the 10 p.m. time period on Friday. I wish it were paired with The Good Wife on Tuesday in a two-hour block of unashamedly adult drama. (To make room, I’m sure NCIS: Los Angeles would do just fine on Friday.) But for now I won’t complain. The possibility that CBS might for the first time since the heyday of The Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas and Falcon Crest have a Friday night series worth watching is tantalizing, to say the least. (I hope CBS takes advantage of Bloods’ late time period on a below the radar night and pushes the show’s content into basic cable territory. After all, if Fox can do that with House on Mondays at 8 – as it did last week – surely CBS can get away with it Fridays at 10.)
Scott Caan is TV’s New It Guy. With apologies to Lone Star stud James Wolk, who was anointed the Hot New Actor by several magazines and Web sites and now finds himself without a series, Scott Caan is the new It Guy for this television season. Caan caught fire over the summer as an aggressive talent manager on HBO’s Entourage, often stealing scenes from the veteran stars of that series. Now he’s stealing an entire show as the effortlessly cool Det. Danno Williams on CBS’ Hawaii Five-O.
Viewers Still Love a Good Serialized Mystery. That’s why they turned out in droves on what is now TV’s most competitive night for the premiere of NBC’s The Event. Of course, the story has to live up to that interest, and significant ratings erosion in week two suggests The Event may not be giving the public what it wants. (How could almost twenty percent of its premiere-week audience not tune in to see what happened to the damn plane?) Here’s hoping it gets the chance to prove itself.
Thursday is No Longer the Hottest Night of the Week. The night’s high profile players – CBS’ CSI, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, NBC’s The Office and 30 Rock, Fox’ Fringe – are losing their luster, while its new additions -- ABC’s My Generation, CBS’ (Bleep) My Dad Says and NBC’s Outsourced – aren’t exactly the stuff of great TV. And whoever thought that an edition of NBC’s The Apprentice featuring unemployed people competing for the blessings of Donald Trump would find an audience while millions of people still can’t find jobs deserves a spot on the unemployment line. The night’s brightest light is CBS’ freshly relocated powerhouse The Big Bang Theory. I can’t wait until USA Network gets its Thursday night game back on with Burn Notice and Royal Pains.
Syfy Needs a Host (or Hosts) for Its Saturday Night Creature Features. I have said for years that Syfy should do more to support its Saturday night monster movie franchise. The decision to have Josh Gates of Destination Truth host the premiere of Sharktopus last weekend was a big step in the right direction. (Having the director of the film and one of its stars on hand, too, was also a smart move.) Why not do this every Saturday and turn every cheesy Syfy movie into a mini-event? (Imagine how much attention these movies would get if they were presented every week by groovy hosts like G4’s Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn, with guests from the movies and perhaps other Syfy productions? For that matter, it wouldn’t be a bad backup gig for Gates, but his travel schedule might be an issue.) In keeping with recent Syfy tradition I assume Sharktopus will be back before too long to munch on a few more beach-goers and take on Dincroc or Supergator.
Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart Should Mix it Up More Often. I don’t give a hang which side of the political aisle you sit on. You have to admit that Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and Daily Show host Jon Stewart were compulsively watchable together when Stewart dropped by The O’Reilly Factor last week to promote his new book, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race. Similarly, Reilly juiced Stewart’s Comedy Central show this past Monday when he returned the favor and pushed his new book, Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama. Frankly, I’d love to see these two get together more often and expose their ideologically opposed fan bases to different points of view.
It’s More Difficult than Ever to Get Excited about Broadcast Programming. When you’re hooked on such dynamic series as AMC’s Mad Men, FX’s Sons of Anarchy, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Showtime’s Dexter and Weeds and Comedy Central’s South Park, all of which are currently in first-run, it’s really difficult to get jazzed about much of what passes for contemporary entertainment on the broadcast networks, even during premiere week. That said let’s hear it for the broadcast veterans that delivered the goods upon their returns: CBS’ NCIS, Survivor and The Big Bang Theory; NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; Fox’s House, Glee, Bones and Family Guy; The CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Smallville and Supernatural, and especially ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and Modern Family, the two shows that did more to light up Premiere Week than any others.